The need for realpolitik in Oromo politics
By Abboomaa M. Gadaa
It is not inaccurate to state that a significant number of the Oromo hold certain misguided views about politics in general, the most puzzling of which is the belief that most politicians put the collective interest ahead of their personal interests. Further, the notion that good-faith negotiations with adversaries can yield winning strategies in political games involving actors with competing interests, appears to have some credence among a surprisingly large segment of the Oromo. In the real world, however, only hard-nosed analyses of alternative game plans, not good-faith negotiations, produce dominant strategies in political games where the participants are self-interested actors. It is also well-understood that, generally speaking, political actors put their personal interests ahead of the collective interest, and would pursue the former at the expense of the latter – even in democracies – if they can get away with it.
I think the recent uncritical and naive embrace of the so-called Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) by many – notwithstanding the atrocious record of this satellite organization – can be understood in this light. Anyone with some understanding of Ethiopia’s treacherous political landscape, and capable of a serious reflection on how politics is conducted in the real world in general, would not have taken to heart the ‘coming to Jesus’ drama some OPDO officials performed (the drama was probably written and directed by the architects of Tigray People’s Liberation Front [TPLF]) to quell the ongoing popular resistance movement led by Qeerroo Bilisummaa Oromo (QBO). (Note: I’m not suggesting that there are not many Oromo nationalists within the OPDO.)
The saddest part is that some of the most popular Oromo activists have bought into the storyline hook, line, and sinker. On one occasion recently, we were being informed that agents of the regime were caught by Oromia police while trying to assassinate the leaders of OPDO. One does not need to be an astute political observer to see that this story was concocted by the TPLF as a trial balloon for two main reasons: 1) to gauge public opinion whether there is going to be a push back should there be a need to eliminate a few nationalist leaders of the OPDO that may not tow the TPLF line; and, 2) to ingratiate the OPDO, as an institution, to the rebelling Oromo public, presenting it as a legitimate political organization, with the purpose of destabilizing the fragile consensus that has been created among the Oromo public through the selfless sacrifices of the Oromo youth.
Through a series of well-considered political moves, including well-designed trial balloons such as the one mentioned above, the TPLF has been trying to divide the Oromo public into feuding parts – with some supporting the largely underground QBO movement, and others falling in line with the ‘new OPDO’ – allowing the regime to buy precious time to carry out its ‘colonizing project’. (I am using the word colonizing here liberally.)
I am not entirely certain why some in the Oromo political community keep repeating the same mistakes over and over while dealing with the political forces in Ethiopia. What Asafa Jalata calls ‘political ignorance’ might indeed be one of the numerous proximate reasons for the unenviable political position we occupy today in the country. There might be more underlying factors at play; and at the risk of oversimplification, I’m going to offer two of them here. By the way, neither of the explanations are offered as original ideas.
The first one can be described in terms of who we are as a people: I argue that our democratic culture and openness, which can be our greatest assets in the long run, are working against us in the subterfuge-based Ethiopian political culture; where good-faith negotiations to settle political disputes have never been the norm, and the winner takes all by eliminating competing forces, often brutally. Ethiopia’s modern history is replete with unmarked graves of Oromo giants who committed the costly mistake of engaging Ethiopian political forces in good faith, trying to institute a win-win political formula that could accommodate the diverse interests of the groups making up the country. Ras Ali the II, Gobena Daacee, Haile Fida and many other Oromo notables had one ‘sin’ in common: they were trying – unsuccessfully and to their own detriment in the end – to create the Ethiopia of their dreams through open and good-faith negotiations with their political adversaries.
The other explanation for the baffling state of affairs in Oromo politics is a general human condition, and it deals with the natural inclination of political actors to put their self-interest ahead of the public interest. Notwithstanding the general disposition among the Oromo to readily embrace their rhetorically-gifted political elites as selfless actors, the latter (if not all) often exhibit insufficient concern for the common good, with some using our collective aspirations as a bargaining chip to promote their personal agenda. For instance, some of the diaspora-based aspiring Oromo politicians started out supporting the QBO, before they turned around and threw them under the TPLF-manufactured-OPDO-bus, when the youth leaders refused to heed their silly and dangerous dictates. Now, with the so-called democratic centralism reasserting itself within the EPRDF, as should have been expected, and the OPDO expected to play the role for which it was invented; the self-appointed diaspora-based “leaders” of the Oromo movement might finally be running out of options, though we can be sure that they will continue to present a serious challenge to the QBO-led liberation project.
The simple lesson? Pursuing faith-based politics will not get the Oromo to the promised-land; a healthy dose of realpolitik will!
January 1, 2018