Oromos Have Thought Bigger, Professor Messay Kebede

September 22, 2009

In an article titled “To the Oromo Elite: Think Big,” as a reaction to Jawar Siraj Mohammed’s recent article titled “The Failed Journey of the OLF [Oromo Liberation Front],” Professor Messay Kebede dwelt on the issue of self-determination for Oromos by targeting what he called the “Oromo Elite.” As self-aggrandizing as the title of Professor Messay’s article sounds, we can only speculate that the effort is a good faith intention, as far as the legitimate Oromo cause goes, to debate about the political issues of Ethiopia and East Africa so that they may be solved, as much as possible, in the best interest of all of our communities. Therefore, such an invitation to debate avails us an opportunity for a healthy interaction of perceptions among various quarters, which will help us all grasp the reality on the ground.

Both issues of self-determination for Oromos and what the perception of being an “elite” means in Oromo consciousness have been dwelt on at length among Oromos already.

In an article titled “Self-Determination or Self-Assertion?” posted to the web in May 2004, Voice Finfinne concludes: "... for autonomous movement, using self-determination as a tool gives a false sense of the possibility of independence. For independence movement, self-determination [in the case of Oromia] should be irrelevant. What the concept of self-determination has actually become in Oromo freedom movement is a tool of mixed signal. This column argues that self-assertion for either autonomy or independence should take the place of self-determination."

According to Wikipedia, the term elite is taken from a Latin word “eligere,” which means to elect. It connotes a “small dominant group within a large society, having a privileged status perceived as being envied by others of a lower line of order.”

In the enormous depth of Oromo wisdom, humility, not elitism, is a reflection of knowledge and accomplishment. Thus an Oromo who is meaningfully conscious of his or her cultural background out rightly rejects being called elite without having the sentiment of knowing and accomplishing less or the lack of a motive to accomplish more.

We can fairly extend this consciousness to our larger society from which Aleqa Asres Yenesew was one extraction. In Professor Messay’s own assessment of Aleqa Asres’s thesis, unmeasured adoption of thought processes that cause confusions in our society’s consciousness end up making the society unproductive.

In fact, Aleqa Asres reportedly advocated for the acceptance of a common heritage.

In his argument in support of Aleqa Asres’s basic thesis that unity lies in the acceptance of a common heritage and destiny, Professor Messay appears to concur with Aleqa Asres that Ethiopians need to present themselves as the descendants of Ham. Apparently, this argument is not so much about the perceived common heritage, but about the empowerment of an envisioned common destiny out of this presumably questionable common heritage, according to Professor Messay. Be that as it may, it suffices to say here that Oromos have thought bigger about both topics.

Whether talked into writing it or out of one’s own volition, the assessment of the successful journey brought out no new information except getting the distinction, even if not knowingly, of hammering home corrupt practices that gave this journey a false sense of failure. The success is the assured continuity and development of one’s identity, language, and culture, among others. This success is to be measured by tallying the achievements with the stated objectives of the pioneering Oromo movements.

Genuinely presented and fought for, these objectives were never meant to go from defending one’s rights to infringing on other’s rights. The introduction of self-determination in the context of Oromo movement, a struggle of a majority, not a minority, by those who joined it after the fact have clung on to this borrowed idea even as more and more people are beginning to realize that it was borrowed in haste by inexperienced university students. It was the wrong prescription for a legitimate cause.

As Professor Messay also correctly notes, this borrowed idea has rendered a group in the OLF leadership envision the movement “not up to the potential of the people it claims to represent.” However, the big load in Ethiopia’s politics has been redirected by the Oromo mass to naturally go somewhere, instead of nowhere, as Professor Messay would have his readers believe. Therefore, whether that assessment is a hype born from the desperate interactions between these illegitimate activist interlocutors and Professor Messay, or it is the best objective assessment as he sees it, it fails to capture the reality on the ground to present it to his readers.

In fact, the known leaders of three liberation fronts in Ethiopia during Menghistu Hailemariam’s rule, namely, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF,) Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF,) and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) dropped out of civil service or college to join movements that were already on the ground. In the early 1990s, a German observer presented the leaders of these fronts, namely, Isaias Afewerki from the EPLF, Leenco Lata from the OLF, and Meles Zenawi from the TPLF as the three leaders of Ethiopia. In essence, these three individuals’ have been rendered illegitimate, not through a denial of their right or will to exercise their political interests and ambitions, but because of their actions in the opportunities that came their ways.

In the strictest sense of what they stood for, all these three individuals are all illegitimate leaders of their respective organizations. Reportedly an extraction from Tigray and Eritrea, Isaias fought for the independence of Eritrea from Ethiopia. As an extraction of Ethiopian father and Eritrean mother, Meles led Ethiopia at the time of Eritrea’s independence and in its war against Eritrea. Reportedly of an Oromo and Agnuwak extraction, Leenco led an Oromo movement that tried to distance itself from Ethiopia although Oromos constitute the foundation of Ethiopia since ancient times in as much as Ethiopia refers to Kush and Oromos are the biggest group among those known under this name.

Naturally, such a leadership composition loaded with borrowed ideologies would wreck the foundations of our society by introducing a sense of hate among the populace instead of seeking justice for all and bringing to justice those who have done wrong.

With a reversed and positively moving sense of entitlement to a culture with enormous wisdom, a population of a few dozen millions living in their geopolitically and economically prominent homeland and around the world, the Oromo can comfortably let the current political trajectory in Ethiopia work itself out to the best interest of all. Thus this movement may not be in a position to require a wrong assessment out of desperation or an anxious celebration out of a wrong perception.