The Globe and Mail Correspondents Put an Ethiopian Missionary Inroad Town on the Spotlight
July 31, 2007

Two Globe and Mail correspondents, Zoe Alsop and Nick Wadhams, recently compiled a report on the current Ethiopian government’s political corruptions. The fact that the country’s political situation is getting more attention by the international community and the global media adds one more hopeful sign for the country’s future.

The correspondents have reported the opinions of the two top leaders of one of the main opposition parties, the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF), and that of an advisor of the country’s Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi. According to this report, Drs. Merera Gudina and Beyene Petros, both leaders of the UEDF, and the former also the founder of the Oromo National Congress (ONC), have apparently been denied by the Ethiopian government their basic rights as political leaders.

The two correspondents' efforts to follow up on the political situation in the country should be commended. They should be also encouraged to continue to gage and report on the country's and the region's future political developments. One of the ways to help them is to educate them about the history of our communities, people, political organizations, and so on so that they can make more informed reporting in the future. Another way to help them is by providing them constructive criticism and to correct their mistakes.

In the mentioned report, they have given emphasis to the political problem in the Oromia region, the largest of Ethiopia's federal states. Apparently, they seem to be not well informed about Oromia’s recent political history as they present the town of Dembi Dollo as the birthplace of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Dembi Dollo is a small town in a remote corner of Oromia that borders with Gambella, another Ethiopian federal state. Oromos, the overwhelmingly predominant population of Oromia, are one of the Kushitic stocks of Ethiopians whereas Gambella's population is generally the Nilotic stock of Ethiopians. As a town between the borders of the two states, the population of the area also generally lies in the borderline between the two groups of people.

The town of Dembi Dollo is known in its past production of students from missionary schools that past Ethiopian emperors allowed to be built in remote corners of Ethiopia. It is from these schools that the missionaries' type of Christianity found stepping grounds to have presence in Ethiopia and later started to compete with the Ethiopian Orthodox church's version of Christianity, which is much older in the country and has the flavor of local culture. In parallel, Oromo students from the missionary school came to join an earlier Oromo movement that led to the formation of the OLF. Lenco Lata, the former deputy chairman of the OLF and an extraction of Oromo and Anyuwak of the Nilotic stock, clearly stated in an interview around 2004 that the OLF inherited Oromo movement and did not create it. In one of his books, he has written that General Tadesse Birru, Emperor Haile Sellassie's former army officer, a one time trainer of former South African president Nelson Mandella, and one of the top leaders of an earlier Oromo mass movement, presided over the formation of the OLF. The army general was born east of Finfinne (Addis Ababa) and we are not sure if he has ever visited the remote town of Dembi Dollo. Many agree that the OLF was formed in Finfinne. Therefore, the reporters' statement that the town is the birthplace of the OLF must have been based on wrong information or misinformation.

Nonetheless, as beneficiaries of the missionary schools, many of these students have been involved in Oromo politics and have made meaningful contributions. At the same time, it is the observation of many that some elements of these students may have lost the core values of Oromo consciousness, perhaps because of the new school of thought they have been introduced to by their new teachers. In fact, experienced politicians including some from the same town allege that it is the confusions caused by some of the students from these schools of thoughts that the early Oromo movement was led in the wrong direction for a long time, and could not produce as much political impact as needed to solve Ethiopia's political problems sooner.

The detachment from Oromo consciousness of some of these students is evident in their lack of appreciation for the age old Oromo wisdom tradition that many Oromos have been fighting for to keep and cultivate, which the outside world seems to be waking up to at this time in its history. In his book titled Breaking the Da Vinci Code, Darrell L. Bock, Research Professor of New Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary, gives advice about rethinking Christianity in light of new information found in the Gnostic gospels. After going to great lengths to refute the issues raised in the Da Vinci Code novel, Prof. Bock would give advice about a new perspective to look at Christianity. In Prof. Bock’s words, "Perhaps the discussion of the roots of faith can proceed with a fresh awareness of where the lines have been and are being drawn."

Oromo intellectuals with solid background in Oromo culture make connections with the Da Vinci Code novel not so much for the issue raised about the nature of Jesus as much as for the similarity they could clearly draw between the new evidences the book highlights and the Oromo culture they grew up in. After careful observations between the tenets of Christianity and Oromo wisdom traditions, some have suggested in the past about a possible misinterpretation of the latter in the former. It is likely that Prof. Bock's reference to a fresh awareness may well be in consonance with those observations. As these observations come to more light in the future, perhaps the world as well as the two reporters will probably have a new dimension to Oromo history as it finds its new place in the history of the world.