AFD, the Unity of Ethiopia and the Oromo/OLF Issue


"Amnesty International considers these defendants (who are leaders of the opposition Kinijit) -- arrested in connection with demonstrations in November 2005 -- prisoners of conscience who have not used or advocated violence and calls on the Ethiopian government to release them immediately and unconditionally." - Amnesty International: May 16, 2006
Starting from the official release of the surprising news about the birth of Alliance for Freedom and Democracy (AFD), different views have been reflected and many articles have been posted on almost all Ethiopian web sites. Most of these views are supporting and others are opposing the alliance.

This shows that the formation of AFD became the major topic of discussion among Ethiopians mainly due to the role some liberation fronts like OLF have played towards the formation of the alliance. Most of the views expressed through different mediums and articles posted on various web sites show that people are suspicious about the success of AFD due to the irreconcilable stands of the organizations that formed it. Specifically the involvement of OLF in such an alliance seems to surprise many people and make them raise questions after questions on the commitment of OLF to the Unity of Ethiopia. Most of the articles and comments, however, don’t seem to see the issue of Ethiopian Unity from the Oromo people’s point of view.

Of all the articles I managed to read in relation to the formation of AFD, Olaanaa Abbomaa’s The Essence of AFD has addressed the serious issues related to the concern of the Oromo people and their leading organization in understandable manner to both Oromo readers as well as to non-Oromos. Despie Olaanaa’s efforts still many people don’t seem to positively see the genuine approach of the representatives of the leading Oromo political organization, OLF.

Olaanaa raised very important points and has taken the time to clarify a number of controversial issues in his well-written article. His thoughtful way of looking at this serious matter from different perspectives enabled him to attract the attention of large number of serious readers. The Ethiopian people in general and the Ethiopian Diaspora in particular need this kind of farsighted, frank, truth-based and rational analysis in order to understand the root causes of our problems and to arrive at some kind of common understanding.

In this piece of writing I would like to express my views on the formation of AFD and the issue of Ethiopian unity as an Oromo who is eager to see a united Ethiopia in which all its people may have the appropriate place they deserve.

To begin with, I couldn't believe my ears when I first heard the news about the formation of AFD. As I am aware of the extreme views of many of my fellow Oromos and also the extreme views of non-Oromos who pretend to be "the sole representatives of Ethiopian unity", I have never expected OLF and CUD to come together and face their members and supporters on a common agenda. This is due to the fact that these two organizations have their own extremist members and/or supporters who do not seem to be ready to rationally look at what their differences as well as similarities are whenever the issues of Ethiopian Unity and people’s rights are topics of discussion. After all extremists at both sides are suffering from group pressure and are not ready to give attention to logical reasoning. Having this understanding in mind, I found the formation of AFD as a perfect and timely solution for most of the complicated problems we had and still have. In the following parts of my writing I will try to give my thoughts under different sub-topics based on some of the opposing views I observed in some articles as well as different comments I heard.

Criticisms and Fault Findings

At the current stage of the Alliance for Freedom and Democracy, are the issues related to the name of the alliance, medium of communication during the founding meeting and who was behind the formation of this alliance are serious matters? For me all these things shouldn’t be taken as big issues as we have more challenging issues to deal with.

The very interesting fact is AFD has created some kind of positive hope in the minds and hearts of very large number of Ethiopians despite all kinds of hair splitting activities and attempts of fault finding. Any ways, let me reflect my views on the name of the alliance, the medium of communication, the involvement of Eritrea in the formation of this alliance and the acceptance of the current constitution, especially article 39. I don’t want to go to the issue of ‘chairperson position’ as it is the most minor and meaningless criticism I heard against AFD. By the way, all these questions have been clearly answered at a meeting that was held in Washington, DC on May 28, 2006 by representatives of the organizations, particularly by CUD.

The name of the Alliance:

Regarding the alliance’s name the existence of the name “Ethiopia” and “Ethiopians” in the coalition’s current name is clear as the organizations that formed the alliance are not talking about the ‘freedom’ of some unknown thing or ‘democratization’ of a place/country that is non-existent. Unless we are doubtful about whether millions of people that each organization is claiming to represent are Ethiopians, it goes without saying that “Alliance for Freedom and Democracy” clearly refers to freedom of Ethiopians and democracy in/for Ethiopia. On my part I have no doubt about it and have no problem with the name. My problem is whether the leaders of all the organizations that formed the alliance are determined and confident enough to courageously work towards bringing about fruitful results by overcoming all kinds of unnecessary criticisms. My problem is whether they are not going to be disintegrated as a result of continuous destructive propaganda sponsored and run by TPLF/EPRDF and its messengers; my worry is whether the so called Ethiopian organizations are ready to learn from their past mistakes and come under the alliance to do something useful for Ethiopia and Ethiopians rather than blindly running for their own ambitious political gains by picking minor issues like the name of the alliance, the medium of communication during the meeting that formed the alliance, the backing of this or that neighboring country, etc. What all genuine Ethiopians want to see, I believe, is a united country that is a true mother for all her children. That means we want to see a Strong, Stable and United Democratic Ethiopia that will never be a mother for some and a rough step-mother for the majority as it used to be. The unreserved efforts to be made by the organizations that formed AFD should be able to show this result to the Ethiopian peoples who are eager to have a strong common home in which they are free to run their day-to-day life as children of a loving mother.

Medium of communication during the meeting:

At a meeting held in Washington, DC on 28th of May 2006, a representative of CUD clearly stated that the medium of communication during the meeting was Amharic except using English translations for the sake of participants that represent the Ogaden National Liberation Front. After all, even if some participants want to use the language they are comfortable to use, do we want to force them to speak the language of our interest that they may not be able to speak very well? What is wrong if, for instance, an Oromo uses Afaan Oromoo as far as there is facility to translate it into Amharic or to other languages for those who cannot understand this particular language? What is wrong if our brothers from Ogaden express their ideas in Somaligna as far as we can get whatever they said translated into other Ethiopian languages on a given forum? Why should people who consider themselves not only as “Nitsuh Ityopiyawuyan” but also as license-givers of “Itiyopiyawinet” always try to force us to forget our identities and take their identity? Having this kind of one-sided outlook, can we really establish a common country?

What do Amharas feel if an Oromo try to force him/her to use Afaan Oromo instead of Amharic? On this point the motto of the Famous Oromo self-help association, Mecha – Tulama, can be taken as a good lesson for all of us. Here is the motto of Mecha-Tulema: “Bante lay indidereg yematifeligewun neger belelaw wondimih lay atadirg”. Let us try to be rational.

Involvement of Eritrea

It seems to me that we are contradicting ourselves if we are opposing Eritrea’s assistance (if there was any) on bringing different Ethiopian forces together and/or helping in the processes of forming this alliance. Where did we put our claim of “Eritrea is part and parcel of Ethiopia and Red Sea is Ethiopia’s natural boarder” when we are capitalizing on the issue of Ethiopian forces working with the Eritrean government? I don’t see any problem if concerned Eritreans have worked with Ethiopian forces as far as leaders of different Ethiopian organizations know what they are looking for, where they want to go and how to get where they want to reach. It is obvious that the leaders of all organizations that formed the alliance can see what the current Eritrean government wants and the motive behind approaching Ethiopian forces if at all it did. These people are not immature kids who may easily give-up their country’s and/or people’s interest for the sake of getting temporary support.

Ethiopians have an excellent indigenous culture/tradition of conflict resolution through elders’ arbitration – shimgilinna. Nobody can deny that Eritreans were proud Ethiopians before May 1991. In case Eritrean brothers have done something to bring the member organizations of AFD together as concerned neighbors, it could be based on our own tradition of shimgilinna. So, what is wrong if Eritreans might have played intermediary role to bring CUD, OLF and other organizations together in order to make them stand in unison together against Woyane? Are we going to say NO if Eritreans may want to be reunited with their “motherland” Ethiopia after looking at the fruits of “independence” for about fifteen years? If our answer is going to be YES, did we forget our slogan/song – Key Bahir Demachin? All things considered, I don’t see any problem if Eritreans might have played some kind of positive role in the long processes that resulted in the birth of AFD. A neighbor should support its neighbor as both need one another for different reasons.

Article 39 of the Constitution

One of the ideas that raised by those opposing the alliance is the acceptance of the current Ethiopian constitution, especially the existence of article 39 in the constitution. I don’t think the existence and/or non-existence of article 39 or other controversial articles for that matter in the current Ethiopian constitution should be a headache for the organizations that are struggling for the self-determination of their people. As the existence of this article didn’t contribute anything to the Ethiopian people after the constitution was implemented, its removal cannot be a cause for stopping the people’s struggle for their collective freedom and democratic rights. What Ethiopian politicians should do about this particular article is to establish a real democratic system and make the existence or non-existence of this article useless/meaningless.

As far as there is any form of subjugation and injustice in that country, the Ethiopian people will continue struggling for their rights and our unlucky country is going to be a land of endless conflicts. What Ethiopian politicians should do in this regard is to honestly work towards the formation of a democratic government in which there is established system of check and balance. Otherwise trying to put oppressed nations and nationalities in the pre-1974 old system of master-servant relationship in the name of Ethiopian unity will not help us to come out of the multifaceted problems we are currently in. Practical measures will help us solve most of our problems. Mere talking and writing thousands of articles will be of no use to solve Ethiopia’s problems. Therefore, let us give opportunity for AFD to move at least a step forward and show the Ethiopian people what it promised to do as an allied political force.

Woyane’s Frustration and its Destructive Propaganda

As many writers have tried to underline one of the major causes of most of the problems we Ethiopians faced for the last fifteen years is the disunited situation we have been forced to be in as a result of the selfish 'divide and rule' policy of the current Ethiopian regime. Specifically, TPLF/EPRDF regime has very systematically used the question of nations and nationalities of Ethiopia for its advantage. On the contrary, politicians and educated people from the major nations of the country couldn’t make visible efforts to come together and see why Woyane is more than happy to continuously work on our differences rather than focusing on the common values that could have united us as children of one country. Our politicians as well as our intellectuals preferred to enter their own narrow boxes that have been facilitated by Woyanes and started attacking each other through all available means. Woyane is fueling such attacks from behind in very systematic manner and that helped it to comfortably stay on power.

Woyanes have started the same tactics after the formation of AFD too. Looking at the different postings on some pro-Woyane web sites and listening to some radio programs that are supporting the current Ethiopian regime clarify this truth. Can't we see signs of frustration and worry through most of these writings and radio broadcastings? In other words “Ke tibibiru (tumsa) misreta wedih beweyane sefer chuhet iyeberekete memtatun altegenezebnim?” What do you think is the main reason behind this frustration and worry? Each reader should try to answer these questions in his/her own way. My answer is AFD can definitely lead the Ethiopian people towards freedom, equality as well as real unity and that is what makes Woyane and its supporters restless. It is obvious that unity of the Ethiopian people means death for Woyane and its messengers. So, all they have to do is to look for minor points that believed to create controversy and capitalize on them. After that our intellectuals and writers will come with not only demoralizing but also with destructive articles. We clearly observed this.

The last fifteen years have shown us that people in TPLF/EPRDF are not sophisticated politicians but are very dangerous, self-centered individuals who never hesitate to make genuine Ethiopians kill one another as far as they think that Woyane can get any kind of advantage out of it. That is what Woyanes did in the past and what they are doing even today. They know what is good for their temporary power and what is against their interest. Whether we like it or not Woyane not only hates but also afraid the UNITY of Ethiopians more than any armed force. Post-Derg years have clearly shown us that the real unity of the Ethiopian people is what almost all the members of this criminal group never want to see. Thus, they have started putting all kinds of obstacles on the ways of AFD.

Are we conscious enough to critically see these obstacles? Do we know who the people writing different opposing articles about the formation of AFD are even on some pro-unity web sites? Are we sure who is behind a given radio program that works hard to discredit the initial move of AFD? This time Ethiopians need to be conscious, systematic, tolerant and farsighted.

CUD vs OLF

Out of the organizations that formed AFD, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) became the main targets of irrational criticisms. This shows how strong, popular and mass-based these two organizations are in their respective constituents. According to the information coming from back home, OPDO/EPRDF is running official as well as underground agitations to "convince" the Oromo people and make it stand against its leading political organization by saying things like “OLF has made an agreement with forces that are against the Oromo people's interest and this will divert the constitutional rights and gains that the Oromo people have enjoyed as a result of OPDO/EPRDF policy”. Others say that the current agreement with organizations like CUD will hinder the future formation of independent Oromia, therefore, AFD should be opposed by the Oromo people.

On the other hand, some pro-CUD people who seem to be excited by the so called result of the May 2005 national election say that CUD is the only political organization that can get the support of the Ethiopian people and no need for CUD to form any kind of alliance with other organizations. In this regard, I remember reading a comment that asks CUD where it puts the vote it obtained during the May 2005 national election when it makes an agreement with forces like OLF who have no participation in the election and have no representation of the Ethiopian people. For these individuals CUD is the only political organization that has the representation of the Ethiopian people. This, I think, is a complete misunderstanding. For sure leaders of CUD, as they well-know the reality, are not in a position to conclude that way, especially when they look at their vote in most parts of Oromia.

When we closely look at places where CUD scored large number of vote during the May 2005 election, we see that most of these places are non-Oromo areas; especially they are constituents in the northern part of the country. Of course, the capital city is an exception due to various reasons. In my opinion, even if Woyane accepted the result of the May election, CUD's victory would be partial. This is due to the fact that CUD couldn't get the vote of the large majority of the Oromo people. For that matter the Oromo people had no choice to elect good representatives as OLF was not a participant in the so called May 2005 national election. Therefore, for the Oromo people the May 2005 election might be explained by the following Amharic saying -"Yewededutin biyatu yetelutin yikelawutu". Honestly speaking, leave alone CUD, organizations that bear the name of the Oromo people, such as ONC and OFDM wouldn't have been the choice of our people had OLF been given favorable playing ground to take active part in that particular election. Whether we accept it or not OLF means the Oromo people and the Oromo people means OLF. So, any movement that includes OLF has unreserved support of the large majority of the Oromo people. It is only such a movement that can bring about a government by the people for the people in our country. AFD is such a movement and that is why it must be supported by all peace-loving Ethiopians despite their national and/or ethnic background.

Now, looking at the current alliance from democratic election's point of view, AFD is going to facilitate conditions for the Ethiopian people to form a democratic government in which representatives of all people will take active part after being elected democratically (without any form of negative influence). If what AFD has planned became a success, the next election in our country will be an election in which the large majority of Ethiopians will vote for their representatives from political parties they fully support. Thus, the involvement of CUD and OLF in the alliance is not a miscalculation as some tried to say; rather it is a calculative move.

The Unity Issue

Some people as well as groups that present themselves as the sole representatives of the Unity of Ethiopia (or those who consider themselves as license givers for Itiyopiyawinet) are accusing CUD for joining the alliance and particularly for making an agreement with “separatist forces” like OLF. What is wrong if OLF joins CUD and move forward towards finding a fundamental solution to our country's major problems? Who gave the responsibility of working for the Unity of Ethiopia for only non-Oromos, particularly to Amharas? What evidences do we have to show that Oromos are against the Unity of Ethiopian?

For me the fact that OLF has joined AFD is not a danger to the unity of Ethiopia. It is rather an excellent beginning to have a very strong, stable, and great Democratic Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa. Whether we like it or not Ethiopia without Oromo is meaningless. In my opinion, it is based on this understanding that OLF joined Ethiopian forces and officially said "let us be together and work for the realization of freedom, democracy, justice, equality, peace and development in Ethiopia." So, we can be hundred percent sure that the Oromo people and OLF are not against unity. Many evidences can be cited for Oromos’ commitment for unity of Ethiopia. For instance, how many of the readers of this piece of writing are aware that there is an organization known as "Oromo Movement for Federalism and Ethiopian Unity"? One can see the political program, different press releases and statements of this movement on different popular web sites (such as www.oduu.com, www.ethiomedia.com, etc.), to understand how Oromos are strongly working towards the establishment of a united democratic Ethiopia.

Are we really aware of its negative impact on the future fate of our country when we are forwarding ideas opposing the involvement of the large majority of the Ethiopian people in their country's affairs? Why do we are doubtful about the commitment of OLF to the Ethiopian Unity when the representatives of the Organization publicly say they are ready to work towards unity as far as a true democratic system is going to be established in that country? In fact each and every Oromo is against nominal unity that makes this great people second-class citizens of Ethiopia.

Meles managed to stay in power without the Ethiopian people’s interest by saying that Ethiopia will be disunited if TPLF/EPRDF is not on power. TPLF/EPRDF cadres have gone to the extent of saying that Amharas and Oromos cannot peacefully live together if TPLF as a political power is not at Arat Kilo. I have never seen any kind of problem between the Oromo and Amhara people. Even if we are thinking of political organizations directly or indirectly representing these people, is there any problem as far as they are ready and willing to discuss each and every issue openly and frankly? I think that is what OLF, CUD and other organizations have started to do. On this point I would like to quote what the representative of OLF has said during the meeting recently held in Washington, D.C. to introduce AFD to the members/supporters of CUD and OLF. He said that -- let us not suffer from past history and start making a new history from now onwards. Let us leave yesterday for historians to investigate realities and move forward towards a bright tomorrow. In fact this is not a direct quotation of his speech that was made in Amharic, but what he said has similar message when roughly translated into English. So what do we expect from OLF beyond this call at this very initial stage of the formation of this alliance (AFD)? We should think many times before forwarding ideas that may label this leading Oromo political organization as a force against the Unity of Ethiopia. True, OLF and the Oromo people are against tyranny. What is currently going on in different parts of Oromia under the common title "Fincila Diddaa Garbummaa ("uprising against tyranny") is a proof for our people's firm stand against tyranny. Does this mean the Oromo people and their leading political organization are against Ethiopian unity? Not at all!!

It is obvious that there are also people’s uprisings as well as armed struggles in different parts of the country. Despite all these movements, Woyane is still in Emperor Menelik's palace thanks to the unreserved support of the western world and the power of the gun it always depend on. It is only the movement of coordinated and united political forces that will remove Woyane from where it is. So that AFD came with a promising idea of leading the Ethiopian people's life-and-death struggle towards victory in an organized as well as coordinated manner. The initial measure that may lead towards such a move, AFD said, will be an all-inclusive forum that will enable Ethiopian political forces to solve the most serious problems for once and for all. Having all these points in mind, I couldn't understand why people who really want to see a strong and united Ethiopia are opposing such a beginning.

As I tried to say, the only group that is going to be seriously affected by the current move of AFD is the TPLF/EPRDF and its messengers. That is why I am suspecting that most of the writings against the Alliance are authored by people who are directly or indirectly pro this anti-Ethiopia group. Otherwise why should we worry when a political organization like OLF says "let us establish a real democratic system in that part of Africa and democratically solve the fundamental problems of our country?"

All things considered, leaders of the political organizations and liberation fronts that formed AFD need to be supported and encouraged by all peace-loving Ethiopians for making such a courageous decision. If Ethiopians of all walks of life are ready to support this wonderful beginning, I believe, AFD has a very strong potential of bringing all democratic organizations and peace-loving Ethiopian forces together.

At the end, I would like to say a bright tomorrow is about to come for Ethiopia and Ethiopians.

Let us work towards unity based on equality.

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The writer can be contacted for comments at qooraaj@yahoo.com


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