Are we ready to offer?
(Response to Yusuf Yassin on Oromia)
By Bito
August 16, 2013

To begin with, I would like to thank you for your frank and straight forward essay that was composed in a manner unusual among Ethiopian writers or speakers. Especially, on the very sensitive matter that you very courageously confronted straight head on, I have never heard or read such an honest discussion from proponents of the Ethiopian unity. Instead of telling directly why they want to retain Oromia in Ethiopia, they prefer to go into irrelevant and weaker arguments such as questioning the legitimacy of the Oromo identity and the question for self determination, denial of part or all of Oromo history, belittling the agony and plight of the Oromo people their quest for democracy and human rights etc. However, that approach is only increasing the belligerency of ideas between them and the Oromo nationalists, and has never been productive.

Contrarily, you indicated that why you want to retain Oromia in Ethiopia is because the presence of Oromia is so crucial for Ethiopia to exist as a country. You indicated that due to its location Oromia holds together parts of Ethiopia from every direction and makes the country a solid continuous territory. You further mentioned that because of that fact the fate of Oromia determines the fate of Ethiopia in general and as a result bothers the rest of the Ethiopian people as well. In this short comment, I am going to raise few points that took my attention while I was rushing through your article. I am not going to analyze the article in its entirety, therefore.

First I have to mention that the reason you stated as the grounds for your Oromia policy constitutes only one component of the complaints heard from some pro-unity groups. Yet, it is the most decent point. The ambitions of most Ethiopian elites who advocate Ethiopian unity, however, goes far beyond that. They even want to own the land and some of them even do not want to see such thing as the Oromo land or Oromia. For that matter when they say Ethiopian unity some of them mean by that the territorial integrity and not the union of the people. In short, they like the land and the resource but not the people. The question as to how the south will connect with the north or east to the west and live together without Oromia is some times deplorable because such concerns usually come from one direction. We are not sure if really the south wants to retain connections to the north or the west to the east. Let me proceed to my next point.

Yes, there is no doubt that the issue of the Oromo people and Oromia is a very serious one that will have a major implication on the future of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa in general. Yes, there will be a lot of questions on the future of Ethiopia without Oromos and Oromia. However, it is totally unfair to ask the Oromo people to bring the answer first to be able to demand their rights. The question of the Oromo people stands and shines on its own and does not depend on any thing. I do not see any logical or political ground why Oromos should be held responsible to find solutions by themselves for such questions as the future of Ethiopia. Those things should in stead be what we all (including the Oromo people) have to discuss and come to agreement upon.

I understand the writer’s concerns that, given the size and location of Oromia, the existence together of the remaining parts of Ethiopia will be questionable if Oromia has to divorce from Ethiopia. Thus the issue of Oromia and the question of the Oromo people is the most serious matter that Ethiopia has ever dealt with. However, that fact does not give any body the ground to expect the solution from the Oromo people alone. It rather puts more burdens on the rest of us.

I want to initiate a very frank discussion. My first question is do you want to retain Oromia (the land only) or you want Oromo people, too? This is an important question to ask because for the main problem you mentioned in your article i.e. binding the Ethiopian land mass together, just Oromia (the land) will do – you don’t need the people for that. In fact this is the preference of the substantial portion of the Ethiopian politicians. Or do you want the presence of the Oromo people within Ethiopia with their rich culture, language, history and traditions to contribute their share and bind the people (not only the land) of Ethiopia together? If you prefer this second option, the next question will be “How do you want to accomplish that?”

How do you want to retain the Oromo people in Ethiopia? Do you want to continue with the status quo? The status quo is suppressing the Oromo nationalism by persecuting, intimidating, mass detention and massacring the elites, nationalist, community leaders and elders; hiring and assigning loyal surrogates among the people to control their each and every life and activity; promoting wide spread instability and displacement from their lands, intentionally denying economic strength and opportunities so that Oromos won’t be able to support a political party of their choice or protect their rights, degraded and highly restricted social and public services and infrastructures (schools, health care etc)? I hope you will not say “Yes” to this because the status quo is not working. So if we believe that the Oromo people are very important for Ethiopian, we have to be committed and discuss honestly on this issue. How do we intend to convince the Oromo people and get their willingness and trust?

Some politicians try to tell us that the problem is with few nationalists and elites while the mass of the Oromo people are content with their situation in Ethiopia. This is in other words to say that the mass of the Oromo people do not know or care for their rights. Such arguments are in principle disrespect to the people and also baseless assertions. The argument is also in conformity with the status quo in that it intends to target the nationalists and elites for advocating for the people’s right. The Oromo elites and nationalists are not some air-born particles, but they are part of the larger society. Moreover, the source of Oromo nationalism is the Oromo people themselves, their identity, common interest, culture and history.

Let me go to another question. What is your legal and moral ground to deny the Oromo people the right to self determination that you even admittedly accepted when it comes to other nations and nationalities such as Silte and Kucha? Because the Oromo people is so big and the issue is also so big that affects your own interest, right? That was what you stated as the reason in your article. However, that reason has no legal, moral or logical ground whatsoever. The right for self determination is a legitimate right of any people recognized by the United Nations as indicated in the two UN covenants adopted in 1966: The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Both in their Article 1 state “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

Just from your article, I learnt that you have no problem with the idea of self determination as far as it is not for the Oromo people. And if we take your reason for that into consideration, you have no problem with self determination of peoples as far as it does not affect your interest. This leads us to believe that your ideas are driven by benefits and interests and not by principles and concepts. This may make you a selfish creature that cannot stand and pay sacrifice if required for your principles.

The next point is that you are intending to deny the Oromo people their basic and legitimate right because the Oromo people is so important for the existence of Ethiopia to continue. However, you have no problem when other people enjoy the same rights that you do not want the Oromo to exercise. This logic is awkward. First it is unfair and immoral to discriminate, and illogical to penalize some one for being more important. The logic should have been the other way around. That is something more important must cost more prices. Thus if you are genuine in your assertion that the Oromo people are so important for Ethiopia, logically it automatically comes that you owe the Oromo people more - not less. You do not deny the Oromo what you offer to others but you have to offer the Oromo more than any one. In other words the fact that it is so crucially important must grant the Oromo people more benefits and privileges. This logic, I believe, is the key to go forward. How much are we ready to offer the Oromo people to win their heats and minds? How long a distance are we willing to go to welcome them into the political fellowship of Ethiopia with the status and position commensurate to them? I think this should be the discussion that Ethiopians should embark upon now instead of trying to restore the status quo ante. The fact I want to mention is that we cannot deny the Oromo people everything for ever. We must think seriously and decide what we can afford to give or they will take what they want on their own one day. And until they get ready to take what they want, we will all suffer together. Mr Yusuf Yasin states that it would be too important for Ethiopia to give away Oromia but he did not mention what he was willing to offer in exchange and to convince the Oromo people that their interests are best protected in Ethiopia.

To conclude, it is a responsible and decent concern to ask how things will go forward in the event the political dynamics of that region takes us to some new realities. But such concern should push us forward toward a progressive and lasting solution. A sustainable solution requires looking for some new ideas and opening our minds and hearts to accept some realities on the ground today. Some of our writers in Diaspora, who left Ethiopia years ago, still have an old perception of Ethiopian people. A lot have been changed since and we cannot go back any more. The solution is accepting realities and work on that our way forward before some undesirable realities emerge.

In the end every society needs respect, freedom, peace and prosperity, and Oromo is not an exception. Therefore, I believe a compromise and common grounds between the Oromos and the rest of the Ethiopian people can be reached through honest dialogue. But it is going to cost us some thing – are we ready to offer? - An African-American news and views website.
Copyright 2013