The ‘Nine Lives’ of Oromo Literacy – Qubee and the Birth of a Generation




The ‘Nine Lives’ of Oromo Literacy – Qubee and the Birth of a Generation

Part II

Defying a Tradition that Demonizes Our Identity, Our Language and Alphabet

By Mekuria Bulcha

Previous Part I

Introduction

In the first part of this article which was published on websites on July 15, 2017, I have described briefly the humble beginning of Oromo literacy and the repression with which it had been treated by the Ethiopian regimes from Menelik II to the Dergue which had ended in 1991. I have also explored the search for the right script which the Oromo had conducted, the effort they had made to develop literacy in their language, and the opposition they had encountered paying a great price along the way in the 1970s and 1980s.

In this second part of the article, I will briefly describe the resurrection of Oromo literacy in Oromia in the early 1990s and the opposition and skepticism with which the Latin alphabet, qubee, used in Oromo literacy, was met from the Orthodox clergy and the Habesha elite. After briefly introducing the radical changes brought about by the Oromo adoption of the qubee alphabet and the implementation of the use of Afaan Oromo, I will explore the anti-qubee and Afaan Oromoo feelings which were reactivated after the Oromo uprising in November 2015. It is important to note that, although the use the qubee alphabet in Oromo literacy was adopted by the Oromo people in 1991, there are groups who still today, in 2017, are opposing the Oromo right to write their language in an alphabet of their choice. Most Oromos dismiss the opposition of these groups as nonsensical and unworthy of attention.[1] However, ignoring it is not an option.  There are a couple of reasons which, in my view, make countering the anti-qubee discourse a necessity. To begin with, any discourse that downplays a people’s right to develop and use their language violates human rights, and should be countered. Secondly, a discourse that distorts and demonizes the adoption of the qubee alphabet as a reflection of Oromo hate against the Ge’ez alphabet or fidel and Amhara culture, as many of the opponents’ comments are saying, is a sinister distortion intended to plant mistrust between the Oromo people and their neighbors. Such a discourse should be exposed and countered before it would cause serious conflicts and damages.  It is said ‘Tell your story, otherwise someone else will tell it differently.’ Taking that advice into account, I will try, in this and a forthcoming third part of this article, to answer the questions, “Why are they opposing the qubee after more than two decades of silence?  Why are the Oromo singled out for an attack while there are many other Cushitic-speaking peoples who have also adopted the Latin alphabet? Who are the authors of the articles and commentaries that oppose the qubee alphabet? In addition, the article will examine the ideology that underpins the opposition against the Oromo language in general, and use of the qubee in particular.  Before proceeding to that, a brief overview of the spontaneous reception of the qubee alphabet by the Oromo nation and the opposition and skepticism of the Abyssinian clergy elite in the early 1990s is in order.

Oromo literacy resurrects equipped with an appropriate script

In the first part of this article, I have described the many “death sentences” passed between 1906 and 1991 on Oromo literacy by consecutive Ethiopian rulers, from Menelik to Mengistu Hailemariam, were discussed. The betrayed promises of the 1974 Ethiopian revolution, including the restoration of peoples’ rights to language, were raised and the contribution of Oromo nationalists, scholars and political activists, from underground at home or in refugees camps and diaspora, and the development of the qubee alphabet as an appropriate instrument for the transcription of the Oromo language and revival of the suppressed Oromo literacy were discussed. Thus, fifty years after the Haile Selassie regime banned the Oromo literacy, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) brought it to life in 1991.

The literature produced in the diaspora and by the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) was not adequate to implement a comprehensive formal educational program, but it had an immediate impact on the politics of language and culture in Ethiopia. The change was enthusiastically received by the Oromo people, and the transformation of the Oromo language in the 1990s from a vernacular used by rural households to a cherished public language was a rapid one. Building on the literature produced and experiences gained in the 1970s and 1980s in refugee camps and diaspora communities, the Oromo were very quick to put the language policy of the new government into practice.  Thanks to the voluntary intellectual contribution by Oromos from different fields, school-books were quickly prepared, and within a year, Afaan Oromoo became the medium of instruction in all primary schools in Oromia. In addition, people of all walks of life flocked to literacy classes to learn reading and writing in the qubee alphabet. In short, the entire Oromo nation was mobilized for literacy in its own language for the first time in history. However, as I have discussed at length elsewhere, this did not happen without opposition from the Abyssinian elite and clergy.

From the ‘devil’s tongue’ to the ‘devil’s alphabet’

Although the OLF and the Oromo nationalists who implemented Afaan Oromoo as the official language of Oromia were pushed out of the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE) were banned in June 1992 and forced to go underground or leave the country, it became impossible to call back what they had put in place including the use of the qubee alphabet. The enthusiasm with which implementation of literacy in Afaan Oromoo was received caught both the TPLF regime and the Amhara elite off guard.

The TPLF regime did not want to reverse the OLF language program for obvious reason. At that stage, it needed support from the Oromo people against its adversaries from all sides. However, the use of the Latin alphabet was contested immediately and viciously by the clergy of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The German anthropologist Thomas Zitelmann stated that “a remarkable tactic of opponents of the qubee is to call it ‘the devil’s script”’.[2] As Zitelmann noted, the demonization of the qubee “recalls a former image of the devil’s tongue’, which was applied to the Oromo language within the Christian tradition of the Ethiopian empire.”[3] The case in point is a sixteenth century myth about the origin of Oromo language and its speakers. The myth was concocted by the Abyssinian clergy and associated with the devil and a certain Oromo herdsman called Laalo and his seven children – four boys. According to this myth, Laloo and his children were outlaws and lived in a forest on the borders of the Abyssinian Empire. In the forest, they worshipped the devil who taught them a strange language – Afaan Oromoo. Laalo’s children multiplied in number and finally overrun the Abyssinians Empire. There is a lot of information which the myth envelopes about Oromo and Abyssinian histories and relationships. Since I have already analyzed the myth elsewhere[4], I will point out here a few pertinent points to our present discussion. First, it is interesting that the names of the four boys in the myth – Karrayyu, Tulama, Maccaa and Wallo – are not only allegorical representations of real branches of the nation, but also the divisions from which the fighters who defeated and drove the Abyssinian forces in the south and drove them north in the sixteenth century were drawn from. In other words, the myth was a distorted account of real events. Secondly, the demonization of Laalo and his children was apparently an explanation for the Oromo success and an excuse for the Abyssinian defeat in the decades-long war: the myth suggests that the Abyssinians fought against demons and not humans.

To come back to the main point, the Oromo revolt against Abyssinian domination in the sixteenth century and the rejection of Amharic and the Ge’ez script now seem to underpin the demonization of Oromo language then and qubee alphabet now. There are concepts which remain rhetorically and politically effective long after their architects have gone. Ironically, be it consciously or not, the concept with which the Orthodox clergy of sixteenth century characterized the Oromo people and their language was recycled in 1992 as an instrument to mobilize opposition against the Oromo people and the qubee alphabet by calling it the “devil’s script”.  I will cite two well-known incidents to explain what I mean here. In December 1993 Aberrash Dabala, who was involved in the qubee literacy campaign in Caanco, a town about 40 kilometers north of Finfinnee (Addis Ababa), died at the age of 22 years. Aberrash was ostracized post mortem because of her work with the qubee alphabet[5] and her remains were denied resting place in the cemetery of the St. Mikael Church of Caanco.  In a second incident, the Orthodox clergy of another St. Mikael church in central Oromia tried to involve religion in their war against the qubee alphabet: they told their congregation, of who the Oromo were the majority that there was a divine curse against the Latin alphabet and that the tabot was refusing to return to its church unless the festival participants make a demand that the use of the “devil’s alphabet” in their parishes be stopped. However, the people did not believe the story; they went home leaving the “immobile” St. Mikael tabot and the priests on the road to the church. Thereafter, they continued to send their children to school to learn the qubee alphabet.

While demonization was the Orthodox clergy’s reaction to Oromo adaptation of the qubee script, the response of the Amhara elite was by and large dismissive disapproval. They believed that Oromo parents and children would reject not only the qubee script, but even education in Afaan Oromoo itself. Parents would reject it because education in Amharic means job and social mobility for their children. Apparently, there were also those who thought the fate of Oromo literacy conducted with the qubee script will fail like the Dergue’s literacy program which was implemented in the late 1970s using the Ge’ez alphabet. In short, the skeptics saw no need for serious ideological or political argument to oppose it. Instead they joked about it calling the Oromo agul ferenj or the “odd whites”. The only exception was an article written by Dr. Baye Yimam to counter the linguistic, educational and technological reasons given by Oromo scholars and politicians for their choice of the Latin alphabet.[6] In the article, Dr. Yimam argued that the reasons for the choice of the Latin alphabet was not linguistic as the Oromo say but political. However, Dr. Yimam’s argument was not convincing to make any change, and the skeptics’ jokes did not last long. Within a year after its implementation, the Oromo language was functioning conveniently as an official language serving its speakers as means of communication, public administration, commerce, the arts and above all, the medium of instruction in all public schools throughout the National State of Oromia except in its capital city Finfinnee (Addis Ababa). Thus, the adaptation of the qubee alphabet became a milestone in Oromo history.

The beginning of the end of an era

What the Orthodox clergy who demonized the qubee alphabet, and the naftanya elite who scoffed at its adaptation by the Oromo people did not understand was the sense of satisfaction the Oromo felt in the restoration of their dignity and right to their language. Indicating the satisfaction felt by Oromo parents, a journalist who visited Ethiopia in 1994 wrote: “Ordinary Oromo are savoring the return of cultural freedom. Now parents are once more giving their children Oromo names.” Indeed, the implementation of Afaan Oromoo as the official national language of the State of Oromia brought to an end an era when an Oromo name was a burden to its bearer and exposed him or her to discrimination in employment and appointment. It demolished the school environment where Oromo children were easy bait for jokes and ethnic slurs because of their names. The days when Oromo names were reviled and teachers told Oromo schoolchildren “You cannot pass the national examination unless you change your name to an Amharic one” or “Writing your Oromo name breaks the typewriter” are gone for good.[7] The implementation of formal education in Afaan Oromo by the OLF immediately after the demise of the Dergue regime was a victory over circumstances that were harmful not only for the morality of Oromo schoolchildren, but also of the entire Oromo nation.  The Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor tells us that “to be a member of a group whose culture is reviled and devalued is to be prone to damage of one’s morality and self-esteem.”[8] That was the situation of generations of Oromos, particularly of schoolchildren in imperial Ethiopia. The implementation of primary education in Afaan Oromoo shattered the “racist” system that impinged the morality and self-esteem of Oromo children for decades. A colonial educational setup that constantly reminded them that their mother tongue was too “uncultivated” to be heard not only in the classroom but even in the school ground was invalidated once and for all. The change set in motion a process of the restoration of the self-esteem of a nation who, for more than a century, were constantly reminded by Abyssinian authorities that they needed Amharic to be “Ethiopianized” and “civilized”.

In short, the implementation of Afaan Oromoo as Oromia’s official language marked the beginning of the end of Abyssinian colonialism. It set in motion a process of the decolonization of the Oromo mind, and the healing of injured Oromo feelings. Since 1991, millions of Oromo children have been educated in their mother tongue. These are also the youth who are generally known as the ‘qubee generation’ among the Oromo, and are in the forefront of the current protests in Oromia. Thus, the adoption of the qubee, the Latin-based Oromo alphabet in 1991 symbolized a victory over the forces which banned teaching, preaching and writing in Afaan Oromoo for over a century and heralded the revival and development of Oromo language and literature. It is a patriotic act of intellectuals that saved their language from extinction to which it was relegated by the policies of successive Abyssinian regimes in the past and was in progress for about a century. In short, the adoption of the qubee alphabet rescued the Oromo nation from ethnocide, that is to say a state of cultural and linguistic nonexistence. Thus, having given birth to an Oromo youth who are the defenders of Oromo culture and language today, the adaptation of the qubee script and subsequent revival of literacy in Afaan Oromoo have, I would argue, turned the course of Oromo history in the right and irreversible direction.   In general, the satisfaction of the Oromo people with the script is such that many songs have been written in its celebration during the last twenty five years. The artistic presentations and melodies of some of the songs can be appreciated and enjoyed even by those who do not understand the Oromo language.

Renewed opposition 25 years down the road

Notwithstanding the radical changes mentioned above there is still a demand from Amharic-speaking scholars and political activists that the Oromo drop the qubee alphabet and adopt the Ge’ez script to write their language. The audacity of the demand is that it was made in 2016, twenty five years after the Oromo officially adopted the qubee script and hundreds of books were written, and millions of school books were published in it. Needless to add here that the volume of official documents written in Afaan Oromoo to serve over 35 million people in the two and half decades is also enormous. Above all, the irony is that the demand is coming from non-Oromos and in disregard to Oromo views I have described above.  The demand was raised in public at the “Vision Ethiopia Conference” held in Washington DC in March 2016. Although the conference was convened to assess the future of the Ethiopian state vis-à-vis an ongoing Oromo uprising, along with the division of Ethiopia’s population on the basis of nationality, the qubee question was raised from the audience. The qubee alphabet was mentioned as part of an explanation for total silence of the other Ethiopians over the ongoing massacre perpetrated against the Oromo youth.  The protests in which the Oromo youth were massacred were associated somehow with the qubee alphabet. Indeed, the vast majority of the Oromo youth who organized and participated in the uprising that started in November 2015 were born after 1991 and the literature used in their education were all written in the qubee script.  In fact, they are identified collectively as “the qubee generation”. But, the protests were stirred by land grabbing and Oromo uprooting and have nothing to do with an alphabet. However, language and alphabet were pointed out as contributory factors to the ongoing conflict and the qubee is feared to be a nemesis of Ethiopian identity and eventually the Ethiopian state. That defense of the Ethiopian state was prioritized over solidarity with the Oromo youth was clear.  The implicit proposal of those who raised the question at the conference was for the Oromo to drop the qubee alphabet, adopt the Ge’ez script and define themselves as Ethiopians to deserve solidarity from the other Ethiopians. The discussion between the audience and the members of the Oromo Democratic Front (ODF) on the “Vision Ethiopia” conference instigated further debate, and dozens of commentaries and articles were made or written opposing the use of the qubee alphabet since then.  The rest of this and the next article will analyze their contents.

The identity of the new opponents of the qubee script

Before going into the substance of their arguments I think it is useful to identify the opponents of the qubee alphabet. The November 2015 Oromo uprising has reactivated the anti-afaan Oromoo feelings among a section of Ethiopian elite particularly scholars and political activists living in the diaspora. The dozens of odd commentators who pour obnoxious scorn on the Oromo because they are writing in their language with an alphabet that fits its phonology are potential source of conflict.  There are also those who think the use of the qubee can be banned and the Ge’ez script imposed. For example, Professor Getachew Haile posits that it is not an ethnic group or their scholars but the Ethiopian regime and its ruling elite who have the prerogative to decide over how an “Ethiopian” language is written.  His implicit message is that the decision will be made by a regime which will replace TPLF in the future – since the TPLF has already decided.

It seems that the majority of those who are opposing the use of the qubee are not only descendants of the naftanya, but also elements with a mindset imbued with the pre-1974 imperial ideology that sustained the naftanya-gabbar system. The Amharic word naftanya means soldier-settler while gabbar means a serf more or less owned by a naftanya.  As John Markakis correctly stated, “Appropriately known as neftegna gunmen, the northerners comprised a ruling class that was essential to the maintenance of the imperial state and its economy.” Teshale Tibebu notes that in the past, “The personification of the triple dominance of the dominant class – nationality, religion, and language – merged in the person of the naftagna.[9]

In general, the vast majority of the Oromo were distributed to the naftanya along with the lands their ancestors had owned and cultivated. The Oromo and the other conquered peoples were not only dispossessed economically, but also were treated as gabbars or serfs. They were denied the rights to culture, language and even their humanity. The naftanya-gabbar nexus reflected the hierarchical structure of the Ethiopian empire along ethnic, linguistic and cultural lines with the Amhara at the top.  Translated in power terms, this means dominance and hegemony of the naftanya over the gabbar, or the Amhara over the Oromo. Also, another important fact to note here is that the descendants of the naftanya speak the Amharic language but do not represent the Amhara people, particularly the inhabitants of Amhara national state which constitute one of the nine regions of the Federal State of Ethiopia.

The 1974 revolution and particularly the land reform of 1975 nationalized urban and rural land and deprived the northern settlers in the south their economic base. The 1991 change of government and usurpation of power by Tigrayan elite left the Amharic speaking naftanya in limbo, with the old imperial mindset but without power. Yet they did not lose hope. Indeed, they were shocked by the takeover of political power in Addis Ababa by nationalist guerrilla forces in May 1991. However, they kept the hope to rescind the laws that created the federal structure and the formation of national states such as Amhara, Oromia, etc. During the last 26 years they have been dreaming to take Ethiopia back to the ‘good old days’ – even as far as the pre-1974 period. They organized numerous ‘Ethiopian’ political parties believing that they can take power from the Tigrayan elite through parliamentary elections. They lobbied the leaders of the international community to exert pressure on the TPLF-led regime to hold a ‘free election’.  The May 2015 elections dashed that hope. The ruling party fraudulently “won” all the 547 in the federal parliament. The silence of the international community exacerbated the desperation of the Abyssinian elite. President Obama’s visit to Ethiopia in 2015, and his recognition of the TPLF/EPDRF regime as a “democratically elected government”, obliterated the little hope the opposition had for engagement in peaceful transition of power brokered by external powers.

Five months after the May 2015 election, the Oromo youth uprising broke out in November with unprecedented force. The Amhara elite, who were scoffing at the Oromo struggle for freedom for decades, panicked when they saw a sea of Oromo youth challenging the TPLF-led regime without any fear all over Oromia. Their belief that the TPLF will stay in power until they are ready to capture political power in the center in a future parliamentary election was shattered.  Today, the opponents of the qubee alphabet and the federal structure of the Ethiopian state are the disgruntled descendants of the naftanya. Their mindset set is that of their naftanya forefather. For lack of a better term, I call them neonaftanya (intellectuals and political activists without arms (neft) who dream to restore the social, political and ideological hierarchies of the imperial regime). In short, the problem of the neoaftanya is their inability to adjust to change and recognize the identity of the indigenous people and live in peace among them. Instead, they continue to oppose the Oromo, deny them their history, destroy their culture and language and impose an Abyssinian identity on them. They do not want to learn others’ language or identify with them. The source of the negative discourse about the qubee are mainly the descendants of naftanya settlers and not the Amhara population.

Ethiopiawinnet versus the qubee script

Presenting the qubee as the work of the devil, once again, one of its opponents wrote, “One of the ways in which the devil filled the feelings of our Oromo brothers with hate of their brothers (the Amhara) is making them reject the Ge’ez script and adopt the Latin alphabet.”[10] This time, the devil is represented as OLF who misled the Oromo people. Even foreigners are blamed for the “sin” of misleading the Oromo to adopt the Latin alphabet and abandoning the Ge’ez script. Thus, a commentator writes, “Using the fake argument that the Latin alphabet is suitable for writing the Oromo language, the Oromo extremists will destroy Ethiopiawinnet and have decided to surrender to white colonizers.” Here, the Ethiopiawinnet that the writer defends against Oromo “extremists” is represented by the Ge’ez alphabet. The historian Teshale Tibebu notes that the history of Ethiopia of the last 400 years is essentially the history of the relationship between the protagonists of the Ge’ez civilization, mainly the Amhara, and their antagonists, mainly the Oromo.[11]  According to Tibebu, “the Ge’ez civilization” is defined by the Ge’ez script. He states that owners of Ge’ez civilization claimed superiority over others they referred to as “barbarians” and “heathens” or people who lacked the culture of writing, and are without religion.

Quoting another historian Tibebu writes that “the central theme of Ethiopian history…has been the maintenance of a cultural core which has adapted itself to the exigencies of time and place, assimilating diverse peoples”, and that “the cultural core is the Ge’ez civilization.” He notes that like colonialism elsewhere, “the Ge’ez civilization was to be a non-assimilating assimilator.”[12] The rejection of qubee by the Habesha elite and recommendation of the Ge’ez script to others is the reflection of that assimilator behavior. It reduces Afaan Oromoo to a dialect within the Ge’ez civilization. The use of the Ge’ez script blurs its visibility. The qubee alphabet poses a challenge to the hegemony of the Abyssinian culture and domination of the Amharic language in Oromia. On the other hand, the qubee script makes Afaan Oromoo clearly “visible” and differentiates it from the Semitic Amharic and Ge’ez languages. It is not just a dialect or a branch of Amharic, but a separate language with its own trunk and roots. It represents Oromo rejection of the Ge’ez civilization by avoiding assimilation. It is an ingredient in the crystallization of the Oromo national identity – Oromummaa. Thus, qubee has served as an antidote that stopped an ethnocide which was in progress for over a century and served as an instrument for the survival and resurgence of the Oromo language and culture. An alphabet reveals not only linguistic differences; it attests to fundamental cultural differences between historical communities. In our case it raises questions about the history of the Ethiopian state and the meaning of Ethiopiawinnet.  For example, Getachew Haile will mute such questions when he writes “Ge’ez and Amharic have been the languages of the country [Ethiopia]. Education was given in these languages in every region of Ethiopia since ancient times.”[13] What he suggests here is the continuation of the practice which he posits was in place since “ancient times”. He opposes the qubee script because the development of Afaan Oromoo falsifies this and other images of Ethiopia which the Abyssinian elite and Ethiopianist scholars have depicted about it. It contradicts the spatial extension of the so-called Ge’ez civilization far beyond the old Abyssinian state and temporal longevity of over three thousand years. It reflects the narrative that presents the modern Ethiopian state as a nineteenth century imperial colonial creation.

Rejection of the qubee is the rejection of the language it decipher and the literature written in it, which is to be repressed, not to be developed. Non-Amhara ethnocide has to occur for the supremacy of the Ge’ez civilization to expand. Thus, one of the foremost anti-Oromo ideologues, Professor Getachew Haile, argues that “From the beginning, territory and tribe do not have any relationship in Ethiopia’s history. Our land has a country (Ethiopia) but not tribal name” (Amharic text in footnote).[14] He goes on and says that “Until the sixteenth century, when the Bareentumaa and Boran Oromo “invaded” it, not a single Oromo had set foot on the land called Oromia today” (see footnote for Amharic text ).[15] Based on the story of Oromo “migration” to or “invasion” of Ethiopia in the sixteenth century, he posits that the Oromo people are “new comers” to the area, and therefore do not have the right to associate their name with any territory.

Federalism is an antithesis of the Ethiopiawinnet ideology. The recognition of the nationhood of the Oromo, the Afar, the Sidama, Amhara, etc. as reflected in the federal structure of the present Ethiopian state arrangement constitutes an affront to the worldview of the neonaftanya. They talk about democracy and equality, but they neither recognize Oromo rights to language nor offer more than a secondary role to the cultures of the non-Abyssinian people. Consequently, instead of accepting change and adjusting themselves to it, they will reverse the course of history and recreate the Ethiopia they had inherited from their grandfathers in which the Oromo, the Sidama, the Afar and others are “tribes” to be assimilated. Their undeclared intention is to preserve a mono-cultural imperial heritage which is essentially Abyssinian while denying the cultural heritage of the non-Abyssinian peoples they will erase. They reject not only the qubee alphabet, but also nullify, as I will describe in the next part of this article, any explanation the Oromo give for adopting it. In general, anti-qubee commentators reject the federal territorial division of Ethiopia into sub-states inhabited by groups such as the Oromo bearing such names as Oromia because the acknowledgement of these names will raise the “gosas” (“tribes”) who inhabit them to nationhood and exposes the plurality of the Ethiopian state. The recognition of the national identities of these peoples and the autonomy of their territories contradict the myth and metaphysics of Ethiopiawinnet.  Therefore, some of the neo-naftanya scholars posit that to recognize these territorial identities is to commit a “crime” or a sacrilegious act against Ethiopiawinnet. For example, Professor Getachew Haile argues that,

To accept regional divisions conducted using language as a criterion is to approve the crime committed by the TPLF and the OLF against Ethiopia. The idea of division along tribal lines was born to fulfil the interests of the two organizations.[16]

According another writers, “Ethiopiawinnet is a spirit” (“ኢትዬጵያዊነት መንፈስ ነው”).[17] A spirit is something divine, unadulterated and supernatural. Many of the writers who oppose the Oromo people’s right of self-definition or assertion of national identity, uphold this diffuse definition of Ethiopiawinnet. According to Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam, “Ethiopiawinet is a state of being and consciousness, a philosophy and way of life, a system of belief and praxis of being.”[18] The question is, whose philosophy and way of life or a system of belief and praxis of being is he talking about? The ideologues of Ethiopiawinnet posit that it is a legacy handed down from generation to generation for three thousand years, and is embedded in and symbolized by the Ge’ez script, the Ethiopian flag and to some extent also the Amharic language.  We are told the flag was designed by Minlik the first, between 982-958 BC, and is the oldest national flag in the world. They do not hesitate to say Ethiopians have been dying for the same imperial flag for three thousand years. They argue that as historical and geographical entity, Ethiopia and the “spirit” of Ethiopiainnet pre-date the presence of the Oromo people within the borders of the Oromia National State by thousands of years. As we have noted above, Professor Getachew Haile posits that before the sixteenth century, not a single Oromo was seen in the land called Oromia today.

For the Abyssinian elite, Ethiopiawinnet entails a belief in and an uncritical support for the totalitarian order reflected in the authoritarian rule of its emperors in the past. In its metaphysical meaning, Ethiopiawinnet is of greater value than humanity of the subject peoples.  It is insensitive to mass murder and plunder, and is similar with the extreme religious fundamentalism we are witnessing today; it lacks value for truth, justice and humanity.[19] It denies the crimes committed by Abyssinian conquerors and rulers against the Oromo and other peoples in the south. Thus, as an ideology and a discourse, it attempts to conceal and mystify the origins of the Ethiopian state, and reject the truth in the narratives or grievances of the conquered peoples. The neo-naftanya scholars and politicians who accuse the Oromo as enemies of Ethiopiawinnet today are those who will not hear the truth about Ethiopia: they will deny the Oromo the right to write or tell their history; they will not hear the repressions and genocidal killings to which the Oromo were exposed in the past, or tolerate the current activities they conduct to defend themselves against imminent ethnocide. Thus, their undeniable silence over the lethal crackdowns perpetrated by the TPLF against the Oromo youth for many years and persisting rejection of the qubee alphabet reflect those attitudes. The ongoing Oromo protests have exposed not only the crimes committed by the TPLF regime against them, but also the injustice that underpins the history of the Ethiopian state. As an ideology of the neo-naftanya, Ethiopiawinnet not only rationalizes, justifies and legitimizes injustices which authoritarian personalities such as Tewodros II and Menelik II had committed in the past, but also tolerates crimes being committed against the Oromo and other conquered peoples to serve the “cause” of Ethiopiawinnet at present. Thus, in spite of their rhetoric about the democratization of the Ethiopian state and equality of its inhabitants, the ideologues of Ethiopiawinnet are in their hearts supporters of authoritarianism and cultural and linguistic domination.

The neo-naftanya’s opposition to the qubee alphabet should be seen in light of the Ethiopiawinnet myth and hidden agendas. As Lorraine Towers has stated aptly, “the qubee signifies the celebration of Oromo culture, traditions, and identities, and an assertion of their place in the world of modern literacy and learning.”[20] As such, it challenges the superiority of Abyssinian civilization and rejects assimilation.  The opposition to the qubee script is the misrecognition of the language and the identity it represents.

(Continues with Part III)

[1]Bayisa Waq-waya’s excellent response to the vehement qubee opponents is an exception. See “የቁቤ ጉዳይ የማይቸግር ለቸገራቸዉ ’አፍቃረ – ኢትዮጵያውያን”’,  Ethiomedia.com, May 3, 2017
[2] See Zittelmann, Z., “The return of ‘the Devil’s tongue: Polemics about the choice of the Roman alphabet for the Oromo Language”, Oromo Commentary Vol. IV, No.2, 1994: 25
[3] Ibid.
[4] See Bulcha, M. Contours of the Emergent and Ancient Nation: Dilemmas of the Ethiopian Politics of State and Nation-Building, CASAS, 2nd Edition 2016: 186-199
[5] The Amharic Urjii Newspaper cited in Mekuria Bulcha, “Priests, Religion, and Language in Ethiopia”, The Oromo Commentary, Vol. IV. No. 1, 1994.
[6] Yimam, B. “Ethiopian Writing System”, Dialogue: Journal of Addis Ababa University Teachers’ Association, Vol. 1, No. 1, March 1992.
[7] Towers, L. “Formal Schooling, Identity and Resistance in Ethiopia.” A Thesis Submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney, 2009: 175
[8] Taylor, C.  “The Politics of Recognition”, in Stone, J. & Denis, R. (eds.), Race and Ethnicity: Comparative and Theoretical Approaches. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2003: 378.
[9] Tibebu, T.  ibid. p. 180. It is important to note here that there were some Oromo among the naftanya, but also that to be part of that system an Oromo had to “become” an Amhara – learn the Amharic language and convert to Orthodox Christianity.
[10]Mulugeta Wudu,”ኦሮምኛን በላቲን ፊደል ስለመፃፍ ጉዳይ” (“Writing Oromo in Latin alphabet”). He wrote, “አርዌው አትዮጵያውያንን ከከፋፈለባቸው መንገዶች አንዱ በተለይ የኦሮሞ ተወላጆችን መንፈስ በጥላቻ በማወክ በወንድሞቻቸው ላይ በጥላቻና በልዩነት እንዲቆሙ ማድረግ ሲሆን ከዚህም አንደኛው የግእዝን ፊደል ትተው ከወንድሞቻቸው ተለይተው በላቲን ፊደል እንዲጠቀሙ ማድረጉ ነው.” Ethiomedia, May, 2017.

[11] Teshale Tibabeu, The Making of Modern Ethiopia – 1896 -1974, Lawrenceville, NJ: Red Sea Press, p. 17
[12]Tibabeu, T.,  ibid., p. 13.
[13] Getachew Haile, “የ1884 ዓመተ እግዚእ የበርሊን ኮንፈረንስ እና የ1882 ዓመተ ምሕረት የዲማ ኮንፈረንስ ተመሳሳይነት” (” The 1884 Berlin Conference and 1882 Dima Conference”) Ethiopian Review, February 26, 2016. He wrote, ትልቁ ባህል ቋንቋ ነው። ግዕዝና አማርኛ የሀገሪቱ የበላይ ቋንቋዎች የሆኑት ከብዙ ዘመናት በፊት ነው። ከጥንት ጀምሮ በየትኛውም የኢትዮጵያ ክፍለ ሀገር ትምህርት ይሰጥ የነበረው በነዚህ ቋንቋዎች ነበረ.”
[14] Getachew Haile, ibid, Getachew writes,“በኢትዮጵያ ታሪክ ጎሳና ምድር መጀመሪያው ላይ ግንኙነት አልነበራቸውም። ምድራችን የሀገርነት ስም (ኢትዮጵያ) እንጂ የጎሳ ስም የለውም.”
[15] Ibid.  Getachew writes, “ኦሮሚያ በተባለው ምድር ላይ በዓሥራ ስድስተኛው ምእት ዓመት በረይቱማና ቦረን እስኪወሩት ድረስ አንዳች ኦሮሞ ዝር አላለበትም ነበር”)
[16] Getachew Haile, “ጎሰኝነት የሰው ልጅ ጠላት” (“Tribalism the enemy of humanity”), He writes “ለክፍፍል የቋንቋን መሠረትነት መቀበል የወያኔዎችንና የኦነጎችን ወንጀል የጽድቅ ሥራ ለማድረግ የሚደረግ ጥረት ነው። ባጭሩ፥ “በጎሳ መከፋፈል” የሚለው ሐሳብ ”የተወለደው የእነዚህን የሁለት ድርጅቶች ፍላጎት ለማሟላት ብቻ ነው.”  Ethiomedia, May 22, 2016.
[17] Nega Abate, “ኢትዬጵያዊነት መንፈስ ነው”, Ethiomedia, December 3, 2016
[18] Gebremaraim, A. “Ethiopia: Ethiopiawinet and Tewdros Kassa-hun” ECADF: Ethiopian News & Views,  May 21, 2017
[19] Ethiopianism and Ethiopiawinnet should not mixed. Ethiopianism is a religious movement in South Africa and other parts of Africa.
[20] Towers, L. ibid., 2009, p. 262.