- Our Struggle, Our Sacrifices, Our Last Option: The Need to Reignite Fincila Bilisummaa
By Bilisummaa Jaalataa, December 26, 2019
Like all African countries, the Oromo (hereafter We/Our/Us) were colonized in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the former by white Europeans, and We by fellow black Africans, the Amhara. The Metabele, Herero, Mahdists, Mandingo, Akan, Fulani, Zulu, Xosa, the Tanganyikans, the Gikuyu, and so many other African peoples resisted European colonialism. Likewise, We resisted Amhara colonial rule which was arguably more oppressive than its European counterparts. Our Oromo brothers in Shoa and Wallo in the 1870s, Arsi in 1886, Hararghe in 1887, and our friends the Walayita in 1894 and Kafa in 1897 (to mention a few) fell to Emperor Menilek’s onslaught one by one simply because we all did not possess modern firearms which Ethiopia’s emperor collected from the European powers. Like the European powers, Menilek destroyed the states that he colonized and also aborted the process of state formation in several societies. While European colonizers incorporated their subjects into a labor system designed to promote the development of colonial economies, Menilek took Our land and distributed among his loyal followers. He created the naftagna system and turned the people into serfs (gabar), a system worse than medieval European serfdom. While Europeans banned slavery in their colonies, Menilek enslaved Us and his several other victims. In so doing, Menilek and later his successors turned the Ethiopian empire into the last and the only bastion of slavery in the world and it continued down to post-WWII era.
While white-on-black colonialism generally ended in Africa in the 1960s, Ethiopia’s black-on-black colonialism continued unabated. Of all colonial subjects, We are the largest (like the Indians in British colonies) and have been resisting Ethiopian rule for over 150 years. We sustained unparalleled brutality in the hands of successive Amhara and Tigrayan rulers since the middle of the nineteenth century. In one incident alone Tewodros II, a self-declared enemy of the Oromo and begged Queen Victoria for firearms to destroy Us, amputated the hands of seven hundred of Our people. In the 1870s, when the Tigrayan emperor Yohannes IV unleashed a reign of terror on Us in Wallo simply because We were Oromo Muslims, Menilek was annihilating Us in Shoa and southern Wallo. In the early 1880s while Menilek was destroying Us in the Gibe and Dhidheessa valleys, the Amhara king of Gojjam, Takle Haymanot, was burying Us alive in the Moromor valley of Horro Guduru. In the last years of the 1880s, We sustained two of the most tragic atrocities in the hands of the Amhara, the Anole and Chalanqo mass killings respectively in 1886 and 1887.
It is one of the ironies of Our history that in spite of all the brutalities We sustained in the hands of Our colonizers, We played significant roles in the survival of the empire that colonized Us in the first place. While colonized Africans fought on the side of their respective colonial powers during both WWI and WWII, their service eventually paid off and their countries gained independence. For Us every fight on the side of Our Amhara colonizers brought to Us more hardship, dispossession, exclusion, exploitation and dehumanization. Interestingly enough, We had no part in causing or starting those wars; nor had we signed any agreement let alone treaties with those foreign powers whom Our colonizers forced us to fight. Menilek was responsible for signing a series of treaties, the most important being Wuchale, that eventually led to the battle of Adwa. At Adwa, We paid the ultimate sacrifice and truly saved our colonizers from falling under Italian colonialism. Back from Adwa, instead of rewarding Us for Our sacrifice, Menilek tightened his control on Us by taking away whatever land remained in Our hands from the initial confiscation and giving them to his Amhara followers thereby effectively consolidating the naftagna-gabar system. When the Italians came back for the second time (1935-1941) We traveled to northern Ethiopia and heroically fought in all the bloody fronts. We were mercilessly gassed from the air by General Pietro Badoglio’s forces. In the south, too, We marched in hundreds of thousands to the Ogadan to confront the ferocious General Rudolfo Grazzianni. When the initial confrontation ended in Ethiopian defeat, We went to the jungles and fought the Italians until they were defeated in 1941. Upon his return from exile instead of rewarding Us, Emperor Haile Sellasie confiscated more of Our lands and distributed among Amhara fighters called abat turatanyoch (also balawuletawoch) most of whom were also appointed in different capacities in Oromia. Like the Indians without whom the British could not have defeated the Germans during WWI in West, Southwest and East Africa, and during WWII in North Africa, and the Italians in Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea, the Japanese in Burma and in Southeast Asia, the Oromo fought literally in every war of Amhara-making from Menilek II to Abiy VII (he openly declared the intention of being the seventh king). The Irony is that the Indians were granted independence in 1947, just two years after WWII ended but the Oromo continued to languish under Amhara colonial rule to date.
In a series of diplomatic maneuvers and with the help of western powers, particularly the United States, Emperor Haile Selassie got a grip of Eritrea which was federated with Ethiopia in 1950. The emperor abolished the federation and absorbed Eritrea in 1960. This heralded the beginning of Africa’s longest war (1960-1991) and We, the Oromo, were forced to fight the Eritreans who were not our enemies in the first place. Partly because of Amhara abuse of power and partly because of rivalry over that power, the Amhara went to another long war in 1976 with the Tigre people (under the leadership of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, TPLF) which ended in 1991 with the former’s defeat. In this war, too, We fought and perished to save Our own colonizers. In 1998, a war broke out again between the TPLF (inheritors of Amhara colonizers in Ethiopia) and independent Eritrea. In this war that lasted only two years, about one hundred thousands of Us perished and many more maimed.
In the southeast, the Amhara together with the British and the Italians partitioned the Somali people between themselves during the scramble for East Africa in the late nineteenth century. While British and Italian Somali lands were united to make the Republic of Somalia in 1960, Ethiopian Somali land (the Ogaden) remained under Ethiopian control to cause permanent hostility with independent Somalia which demanded reunification with their fellow Ogadeni Somalis. This led to cross border skirmishes between the two countries that twice exploded into fully fledged wars in 1964 and 1978. The latter was an all out war and the Somalis advanced deep into southern and eastern Ethiopia. The military regime which was facing several internal rebellions amid the intensification of war in Eritrea was forced to mobilize hundreds of thousands of Us and We saved Our colonizers from the Somali invasion. Even worse and sadly, Our colonizers used US to quash the ambitions of Our fellow-colonized Ogadenis who were forced to remain under Amhara rule instead of joining their brothers and sisters in independent Somalia.
While TPLF rule (1991-2018) represented the darkest of years in Ethiopia’s 150-year rule over the Oromo, the last one-and-half-year rule of their present autocrat Prime Minister, Abiy Amhed, has proved itself to be by far the worst, darkest and gloomiest yet for Us. Of all regimes that ruled Oromia since its colonization by Menilek, that of Abiy Ahmed is the most dangerous to Our very existence and the existence of Our beloved country, Oromia. He walked back 130 years in history and started his journey from where his great grandfather, Menilek left. He surrounded himself by Amhara advisers (including the dabtara like his predecessors) and emboldened his fellow Amharas who, on his watch, have unleashed merciless attacks on Us. It is said that he is an Oromo but the prime minister has never openly claimed to be an Oromo. Instead he has identified himself with Amhara interests politically, socially and culturally. Abiy’s rule made Our efforts to live with the Amhara ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE. We have tried Our best to live with them but time and again they refused to honor Our good will.
As an Oromo saying goes: “a shy woman conceives for her brother” (Ija laafettiin obboleessaa ulfoofti). We have carried them for 150 years. Our old strategies – fighting their wars, learning their language, adopting their names and religion, intermarriage, etc. – have all failed. We are witnessing the worst of scenarios where Our enemies show no intention of living with Us under any terms. Our effort to have a fair place in the empire through working in imperial structures have utterly failed. We are left with the second option which Our leaders from Taddassaa Birruu to Waaqoo Guutuu and thousands of martyrs have initiated and millions of Us still placed our hope in. We are being killed every day and We are at risk of imminent extinction unless we make a paradigm shift and fundamental changes in our strategy. Our greatest asset, Our people are united more reliably and solidly than at any time in Our modern history. Every Oromo (from anywhere) sees a very big light at the end of the tunnel. It is time to demand or declare a divorce on Our own terms. Whether We like it or not, it is a matter of time. Our enemies refused to honor our choices of living with them. That is why We have to reignite Fincila Bilisummaa, this time as a final solution.