By Boruu Barraaqaa
October 2, 2014 (Cairo, Egypt) — On September 10, 2014, about ten Oromo refugees were terribly loaded on a Toyota pickup to flee Khartoum, a city where the Ethiopian government thugs abduct any body they want at any time. When they started their journey from Khartoum, the refugees had a dream to reach Cairo safely, at least to get some security relief and enjoy a better life. Unfortunately, what happened to them in the middle of the Sahara desert on September 14, 2014, turned their dream untrue.
According to the information obtained from the survivors, the human smugglers who were illegally transporting these poor Oromo refugees were turned extremely violent for unidentified reason, just after crossing the Sudanese-Egyptian border. They tried to rape the female refugees, but the male refugees who were on the same vehicle opposed this attempt and combated the transporters, showing a relentless bravery.
It was in this scary situation that an unidentified police vehicle was suddenly emerged from behind and the transporters managed to escape hastily. They were driving with the highest speed furiously in the terribly windy and hazardous rocky desert, and finally tipped over. The result was so sad, in which two of the refugees namely Fatuma Mohammed Hundesa and Nahira Abamacha died instantly and about eight others were seriously wounded. Those who died were never buried properly, the report added.
A number of sources confirm that hundreds of female Oromo refugees have been raped, beaten, tortured, infected with diseases like HIV Aids and finally died over the last five years alone, while they were trying to find their way from different areas of Oromia to Khartoum. In last April, just in an area where this fresh sad incident happened, about eight Oromo refugees were captured by the Egyptian police, detained for four months and finally deported back to Ethiopia.
Currently, due to a developing tight diplomatic relations between the governments of Ethiopia and Sudan, Oromo refugees residing in Khartoum are experiencing day and night hunt by Woyane security agents. Fearing not to be abducted by these brutal thugs, they are forced to flee further to Egypt, daring the harsh clandestine journey of the trans-Sahara.
An interesting discussion is going on among Oromos about the relevance of the Scottish referendum of September 18, 2014, to the Oromo question. On one side, there are those who say that the Scottish referendum has little relevance to the Oromo situation. These point out great differences in the historical relations that the two nations have with the states from which they would separate. On the other side are those who argue that the referendum has relevance. While these paint exaggerated similarities between the Oromo and Scottish experiences under colonialism, they ultimately dismiss the Oromo struggle for independence and advise Oromo nationalists to work for democracy within Ethiopia. They argue that Oromo nationalists should drop the “misconception that democracy is given,” that “an empire cannot be democratized” and that Oromo should struggle to “earn” democracy within Ethiopia (See Gelan on OPride.com, September 17, 2014). That position is an old one. It is now used to direct Oromo nationalists to interpret the result of the Scottish referendum to mean that they drop their aspiration for an independent Oromo state. In this commentary, I point out that the Scottish referendum was not about achieving democracy (the UK is a democracy), but about the right the Scots have exercised to make their own choice. I argue that the main lesson we can draw from the referendum is that a nation or a people have the right to build their own state irrespective of the nature of the historical relationship they have with the state from which they will separate. Before entering into the discussion of the lesson Oromo can draw from the Scottish referendum, let us first look at some of the main contexts within which political independence has been claimed by different peoples in the past and is also being claimed today.
There are at least three major conditions under which a people would seek independence from a multinational state and form their own sovereign state. The first condition concerns a history of conquest, annexation and colonization of territories by states or empires. Thus, the European colonial conquest in Africa in the nineteenth-century, and in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean before that, led to the creation of numerous new states in the aftermath of World War II. The indigenous populations, who lost their inalienable rights of self-government as the result of colonization, were empowered by an international convention underlined in the Declaration on Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (Resolution 1514 (XV), adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1960. Many countries, which were European colonies in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific Region, became sovereign states based on the UN declaration.
The second condition that justified the creation of a new state was a prolonged conflict leading to massive violations of human rights involving a state and a nation, or an indigenous group with a specific homeland or territory. There is a tacit agreement among scholars, human rights activists and statesmen that the creation of new independent states is justified where such a situation obtains and when no solution is in sight. The creation of new states during the Balkan crisis of the 1990s, particularly those of Bosnia and Kosovo, East Timor’s independence from Indonesia in 2005, and the separation of South Sudan from Sudan in 2013, can be cited as the most recent examples here. Annexation is also involved in the cases of East Timor and South Sudan.
The third condition which leads to the creation of a new state occurs when and where the inhabitants of a sub-state or territory show the desire to secede from a state or an empire of which they have been a part for a long time. This has happened many times in the past and is still today in progress in a number of places around the world. Wherever this occurs, a history of conquest, annexation or a political union of some sort could be in the background. This, for example, was the case of the Ukrainians, the Georgians, and the peoples of the Baltic States as well as the remainder of the 18 states that have seceded from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (in effect from the Russian empire) since the 1990. However, the immediate impetus that stirred the desire for secession differed from case to case. Parts of the Ukraine were under Russian rule for over 300 years; its separation from Russia, after such a long period of co-existence, was motivated to a large extent by a call for sovereignty. National sovereignty and national identity were the two reasons given by the peoples of the Baltic States. The separation of former Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993 occurred because the Slovak nationalists demanded their own sovereign state. Their desire to secede was not opposed by the Czechs.
Today, a number of nations around the world are aspiring to build their own independent states basing their claims on one or a combination of the conditions described above. To mention some of them, the Catalans are conducting a political struggle to secede from Spain, of which Catalonia has been a part since 1714. They claim that the Catalan language has been suppressed and disadvantaged, and independent Catalonia will fare better economically than in a union with Spain. The French-speaking Quebecois, who will secede from the rest of Canada, will also use the ballot box. They do not claim they are colonized or oppressed by the English-speaking Canadians or the federal government in Ottawa, but say that their desire is to build an independent Quebecois state and run their own affairs. Scotland’s quest for an independent state, notwithstanding its three-century long union with England, is instigated by the desire to live under the umbrella of their own state. I don’t think that the recent “No” vote has put a stop to the desire. In my view, the majority of the Scots have decided to stay in the Union for now, but not forever.
All of the three conditions described above involve some aspect of “human rights.” Basically, the concept of “right” has moral and legal connotations pertaining to rights that belong to all humans. It deals with rights that are generalized as natural and worthy of human beings. The concept denotes, among other things, the right to maintain or develop one’s own identity as an individual or a collectivity. One does not need to ask permission to speak one’s language, practice one’s culture or live one’s life. Normally, one does not do that both as an individual and a people. These are natural rights that belong to all human beings. One does not need others’ permission to breathe the God-given air. Simply stated, a fundamental human right has that “God-given” quality. One does not need to ask for it from others; it is inalienable. One demands recognition and respect for it from others. One has the right to resist its violation by them. It is an inherent right every human being is endowed with in order to enjoy a life worthy of a human being. That is also why it is clearly stipulated and guaranteed by international conventions. That this right is inherent or natural does not mean it is readily exercisable or enjoyable.
It is worthwhile to stress here that a human right is “guaranteed” by international conventions does not mean it is instantly attainable whenever people want to have it. Some form of struggle has to be waged to achieve it. As the late Nelson Mandela has sagaciously reminded us, there is no easy road to freedom. That includes any nation or people who seek political sovereignty. The means used to achieve it is decided by the politics of the concerned state: in democratic states the means used is political and peaceful. It is usually concluded by a referendum.
In dictatorships like Ethiopia, the road to freedom has been made violent by the nature of the state’s resistance to assertion of rights. This is a regrettable reality, but such a road must be traversed to achieve human dignity and respect worthy of a nation. Speaking about means Fredrick Douglass, a hero I always love to quote on the subject of freedom said, in a speech he gave on slavery in 1857, that “Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what people submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.” The Scots used words to exercise their rights. The Scottish right to independence is fully recognized by the government and non-Scottish people of the United Kingdom. That recognition has saved England and Scotland from conflict that could have caused them great tragedy. The Oromo are being denied not only acknowledgment that it is appropriate to exercise their rights, but they are being brutally persecuted when they bring attention to the violations of their God-given rights in peaceful protests.
Other observers have pointed to the great differences between Oromia’s relation to Ethiopia and Scotland’s relation to UK. The differences are historical. Scotland signed the Union Act with England voluntarily in 1707, and they formed a single parliament for both nations. Oromia is a colony kept by brutal force in a “prison house of nations,” as some political philosophers have put it. The Oromo question is one of survival. The present Tigrayan regime introduced a very harsh version of imperial colonial rule using unprecedented violence, particularly against the Oromo nation. As those who follow the politics of the state know, the TPLF leaders have introduced concentration camps and used them as sites for collective punishment. Tortures, rapes and castrations, extra-judicial killings and “disappearances” have been new forms of violent brutality used against individuals by the TPLF-led regime. The late Sigfried Pausewang, who was not known for his support of the idea of an independent Oromo state, but rather for his outspoken criticism of violation of human rights by Abyssinian ruling elites, wrote what the majority of the Oromo had reason to feel in Ethiopia today. He argued that they were not only politically marginalized, controlled and dominated by a ruling party from another ethnicity, but were the single group most exposed to control and repression. He went on saying that, “Oromia is the region with most political prisoners, and most human rights violations, torture in prison, and even disappearances,” and that the federal structure introduced in 1991 “has not been able to soothe the trauma the Oromo suffered after a century of Amhara domination, dispossession and relegation to the status of landless serfs or tenants, and suppression of their language and culture” (see Pausewang, Exploring New Political Alternatives for the Oromo in Ethiopia,” CHR. Michelsen Insitute, 2009). That being the case, the objective of the ongoing Oromo struggle is to reclaim those rights and establish an independent state. The right to political self-determination refers to the right to be what the “self” wants to be. To want to form an independent state or go into a federation with others peoples or states is up to the collective “self” to determine.
As is reflected in the contribution made by some of the commentators on Oromo websites (see for example Nageessa O. Duubee, Gadaa.com, September 21, 2014), there is a wish that the present Ethiopian regime will learn lessons from the Scottish referendum and would allow the Oromo to decide their political future through referendum. In the first place, I do not think that the regime will take such a step voluntarily. It has to be forced even to contemplate such an idea. But let us say it allows referendum to take place in Oromia. Will the Oromo majority say “No” to independence? I have strong doubts about that. My guess is that, given the chance, the vast majority of the Oromo will say “Yes” to independence, and “No” to staying under the umbrella of the Ethiopian state. If we read the writing on the wall carefully, the Oromo have already said, “Enough is enough.”
But, say I am wrong and the “No” to independence vote wins and the dream of pro-Ethiopia Oromo politicians is fulfilled. Will that bring democracy to Ethiopia? I do not think so. Occupying Menelik’s palace (as some pro-Ethiopia Oromo politicians insist) in coalition with Abyssinian political elites will not turn the latter into democrats overnight. We all know that the concept of democracy is alien to them.
In conclusion, what the Scottish referendum shows is that the idea of an independent Oromo state is not “out-of-date,” as one may think. The referendum demonstrates that it is the inalienable right of people anywhere in the world to claim independence from a state of which they constitute a part. Furthermore, when it is normal and acceptable that the Scots, who have lived in a voluntary and democratic union with the English for 307 years, could without any problem vote to leave the union, it is scandalous to argue against Oromo independence from a state that has treated them with horrendous cruelty for 130 years.
* Mekuria Bulcha, PhD and Professor of Sociology, is an author of widely read books and articles. His most recent book, Contours of the Emergent and Ancient Oromo Nation, was published by CASAS (Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society), Cape Town, South Africa, in 2011. He was also the founder and publisher of The Oromo Commentary (1990-1999). He is an active member of the OLF and has served in the different branches of the national movement since the 1970s.
Dr. Shigut Geleta speaks atmThe New World Summit-Brussels Stateless State
Dr. Shigut Geleta addresses The New World Summit of Stateless State
The New World Summit of Stateless State was held from September 19-21 at Royal Flemish Theatre (KVS) in Brussels, Belgium. Twenty stateless political organisations have been participated on this summit. The Summit was divided in to five sessions. These are: Oppressive State, Progressive state, Global state, New States and Stateless State. Dr. Shigut Geleta has presented on the Oromo issues on the first session and his paper addressed how successive Ethiopian regimes orchestrated the notion of self-determination and attempted to blackmail genuine Oromo Liberation struggle.
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A Criminal State: The Blacklisting of the Oromo Liberation Struggle for Freedom and Democracy
The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) is a political and militant organization that fights for the self-determination of the Oromo people against Ethiopian rule. As a result of the struggle that began after the Ethiopian colonization of Oromia in the late 19th century, the OLF was formed as a secular, military organization that ousted Emperor Haile Selassie during the Marxist-Leninist revolution in 1974. The OLF has also fought the subsequent Derg military regime (1974-1991) in coalition with other military nationalist organizations, such as the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). When the thirty-year civil war finally led to the toppling of the Derg regime in 1991 and the independence of Eritrea, the OLF participated in the mainly TPLF’s dominated Transitional Government of Ethiopia. As the TPLF consolidated its grip on power and continued to negate the political autonomy of the Oromo, the OLF left the Transitional Government in June 1992, which leads to a violent backlash against the Oromo population. Currently, despite being a democracy in theory, both the military regime as well as the political and economical sphere is dominated by the Tigrayan minority. As a consequence, other oppressed ethnicities such as the Ogaden and the Oromo continue their military and political struggle for self-determination. Following Ethiopia’s adoption of the restrictive Anti-Terrorism Proclamation in 2009, the OLF was blacklisted as a terrorist organization along with the ONLF and the Ginbot 7 movement, which lead to large-scale arrests and prosecution of prominent members of these groups, including parliament members and candidates.
This lecture addressed the manner in which blacklisting a political movement as ‘terrorist’ functions as an ideological cover-up of the enforced administrative construct of the Ethiopian state. Apart from the Oromo, who represent the largest ethnic group in the country, many other peoples struggle for independence from the contested state. At what level can we argue that the state of Ethiopia even exists, when its main legitimacy seems to be based on its capacity to suppress the very political majorities that constitute it? The blacklisting of a people’s history thus becomes a way of evading confrontation with the criminal dimensions of the state itself.
Dr. Shigut Geleta is Head of the Oromo Liberation Front’s (OLF) Diplomatic Division.
Source: Extracted from Brochure of the summit
September 17, 2014 Written by Ayele Gelan Published in Opride Contributors
ethiopia uk.jpgIn a landmark referendum on Sept. 18, the people of Scotland will vote Yes or No to determine the future of their 300-year-old union with England.
The simplicity of the question and the answers are by no means indicative of the intensity of the debates and emotions in this campaign. There have been passionate debates over the years between the unionists and Scottish nationalists. The publicity of the campaigns has generated a lot of interest around the world. As a result, this week’s vote is being closely watched by Oromo activists and nationalists the world over who are still trapped in old empires. What lessons can be gleaned from the Scottish case for the decolonization of the Ethiopian empire and the Oromo people’s aspiration for an independent statehood?
There are several remarkable similarities between Scotland and Oromia. First, both are endowed with abundant natural resources. Second, both Scotland and Oromia were involuntarily incorporated into empires by their next door neighbors. The Scots have a humorous saying which goes something like this: During creation, God gave Scotland many good things — fascinating lakes, beautiful beaches, majestic mountains and etc. One of his companions commented: Lord, this is not fair; you are being too generous to Scotland, you do not seem to mix it with anything bad. To which God replied, “just wait and see what kind of neighbor I will give Scotland!”
The Scottish people spent several hundreds of years fending off the English. This culminated in the Acts of Union in 1707 when the English and Scottish parliaments voted to create the United Kingdom. Scotland was in economic bankruptcy and it had no more energy left to resist another invasion and continued meddling by the English. Like the Scottish wars of independence, Oromos in Central, Southern and Eastern Oromia put up years of stiff resistance against Abyssinian occupation. In some ways, the acts of union also resembles the incorporation of Western Oromia into the Abyssinian empire. The beheading of William Wallace, a prominent Scottish hero, resonates well with cases of Oromo heroes who perished, amputated or mutilated at the battles of Gulale, Aanolee, Chalanqo and many others.
Like the Scots, the Oromo were treated inhumanely by the invading Abyssinian feudal lords. For instance, the industrial revolution in England was fueled by wool supplied by absentee landlords who evicted Scottish highlanders from their lands to give way for large scale sheep rearing. Similarly, the Oromo experienced a grand scale dispossession under the Gabbar system, which appropriated virgin farmlands to feudal landowners. For the Scots, the greatest victim was their language, Gaelic, which suffered hugely in part due to the highland clearance and relocation of Scottish farming communities to faraway territories such as Nova Scotia in Canada. In contrast, Oromo farmers endured the brunt of exploitation toiling their own land for absentee landlords as serfs and slaves. This together with the demographic balance helped the survival of the Oromo language against all odds.
To borrow an Orwellian expression, all empires are wicked but some are less wicked than others. With regard to the relative successes of the empires that absorbed them, the fate of Scotland and Oromia could not be more different. In Oromia’s case, it goes without saying that the Ethiopian empire failed to establish any degree of cohesion among its constituencies. The fact that a situation similar to the Scottish highland clearances is still happening in Oromia — nearly a century and a half later — is a testament to the farcical nature of the Ethiopian empire.
By contrast, despite all the setbacks that came with losing independence, Scotland thrived in the UK, where the whole became greater than sum of the individual parts. For one, under the terms of the Acts of the Union, Scotland retained most of its institutions, e.g., legal system, education, church and etc. This helped energize the union. Success in domestic economy through a series of revolutions (e.g. agricultural and industrial) propelled the UK to emerge as one of the most powerful nations on earth, so much so that it came to be known as “the empire on which the sun never sets.” In effect, Scotland and England built solid institutions and sustained enviable democratic governance. The same can’t be said about Oromia. The Amharanization doctrine was essentially designed to wipe out all aspects Oromo socio-political, religious and cultural institutions and aggressively replace it by official state functions.
What can Oromos learn from the Scottish nationalists?
There is no doubt that both Scotland and Oromia were victims of internal colonization. Both nations experienced brutal wars of conquest in the centuries leading up to and during their involuntary incorporation into burgeoning empires. Both Scotland and Oromia maintain distinct culture and history from their neighbors. Thus, it is ironic that the Scottish nationalists did not anchor their case for independence on history. They have not campaigned on the principle of decolonization. Past history or injustices during wars of resistance did not play any part in the Scottish independence rhetoric during the referendum debate. In fact, most cases for Scottish independence dramatically contrast with Oromia’s circumstances.
The Scots, who constitute about 8.4 percent of the UK’s population, are a minority group. This led to a phenomenon commonly referred to as democratic deficit, meaning political parties could form a government in the Westminster regardless of which way the Scottish people voted. For instance, for far too long, the Conservative Party have been governing the UK with no electoral mandate in Scotland. This is why the Scottish National Party (SNP) firmly anchored their argument on the principle that no matter how hard they try to perfect the union, democracy is unlikely to work in favor of the Scottish people so long as Scotland remained in the UK. Needless to say, in contrast to Scotland’s clear disadvantage, Oromia enjoys a massive demographic advantage. This means democracy will work exceptionally well for Oromos.
Several attempts have been made to address Scotland’s democratic deficits through referendums for Scottish devolution. This culminated in the formation of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh in 1999. However, the devolution of the political power have not led to any meaningful economic power. For instance, the parliament had power to spend funds allocated to it from the Westminster but it had no power to raise its own revenues through taxes. This fuelled the rationale for independence advocated by the SNP who rested their economic case on the fact that the oil-rich Scotland is actually a net contributor to the UK treasury, by about 400 pounds per person. In Oromia’s case, it would be unfair to talk about the state’s share in government revenue in terms of some marginal net contribution; it suffices to say the bulk of Ethiopian government revenue from domestic sources is generated in Oromia. However, it should be noted that Scotland’s economic case for independence is rooted in the incurable democratic deficit, which in turn is explained by its demographic disadvantage. On the contrary, Oromia is not expected to encounter the Scottish economic dilemma provided that Oromos assert their power to establish a democratic and genuinely federal system of government.
Scotland is located in the periphery of the UK. Peripheral locations often find themselves in disadvantageous positions because resources (human and financial) tend to move and concentrate in the center through forces of agglomeration. More and more jobs are created in London and its surroundings in England. The youth and the skilled among the Scottish people migrate to England in search of jobs. Similarly, investment resources follow suit through the banking system. It requires a good deal of government intervention to slow down this self-reinforcing cumulative process of resource outflow from the periphery to the center. The Scottish independence is essentially meant to reduce or stop the resource outflows by creating jobs in Scotland.
By contrast, Oromia occupies a vast landmass in Ethiopia, comparable more to England in the UK than Scotland. In fact, Oromia is already a magnet, a preferred destination for investors from domestic and international sources. Under normal circumstances, such resource inflows are considered a blessing. However, circumstances are not normal in Oromia so we see resources as a curse to our people. The main reason for this is that Oromos do not not participate in critical aspects decision-making (e.g., investor selection, business location, or employment contracts).
The similarities and differences between Oromia and Scotland may enable us to shed some light on established contrasting viewpoints in Oromo nationalist rhetoric. From the foregoing discussion, it is clear that the SNP has mainly campaigned on democratic principles. In that sense, SNP’s strategy is consistent with the pro-democracy viewpoint in the Oromo movement. The former to justify departure from the UK empire and the latter to justify feasible and possible achievements of democracy within Ethiopia.
While similar to the pro-independence camp in Oromia, the SNP chose not to invoke decolonization as a rallying cry. To be fair, colonial trappings are a thing of distant past within the boundaries of the UK. In contrast, archaic colonial behaviors and sentiments are still rife in the Ethiopian empire. This has made the road to freedom a lot more complicated for Oromos than the Scots, with clashes between contesting viewpoints.
At this juncture, it is useful to draw attention to a few conceptual muddles that might have exacerbated the differences. One is related to the issue of “democratic principle” as discussed in the context of the Ethiopian empire. It should be clear that “democratic deficit” does not mean “lack of democracy.” Oromo nationalists often say, “the Ethiopian empire has been ruled by dictators who do not give democracy to the people.” This expression comes from a misconception that democracy is in fact “given.” The reality is democracy is never given, it is “earned” by establishing power balance through a resolute struggle. As such, it is not tenable to rest the case for Oromia’s independence on the supposition that democracy will not work in the Ethiopian empire. This amounts to resigning from endeavoring to establish power equilibrium through which democracy can come to existence.
Similarly, we often hear assertions such as “an empire cannot be democratized.” The UK is the mother of all empires and yet it is one of the most democratic countries on earth. The English, who are the majority group in the UK, do not seem to have any trouble with UK’s democratic governance. But the minority Scots have expressed a legitimate grievance that UK’s democracy did not work for them. It is true that the English were colonizers in the context of the UK but then again we should note how they “achieved” democracy through Magna Carta long before they became colonizers.
In a nutshell, Scotland’s potential independence offers little in a way of practical lessons for Oromia. Oromo nationalists should instead look at multi-ethnic states such as Malaysia and South Africa on how the majority can and should assert themselves to build democracy. If anything, Oromo leaders should emulate the SNP’s vision and style of effective leadership to mobilize and energize their base in order to realize the aspiration of Oromo people for freedom.
* Ayele Gelan (PhD) is a research economist at the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR). He can be reached for comment at email@example.com.