Should Oromo Go to Election or War?
By Assefa A. Lemu, February 1, 2020
Like any other areas of life, politics also requires knowledge, wisdom, discipline, strategy, and tactic to achieve intended objectives. There are numbers of Oromo political movements that were aborted because of either lack of knowledge, or lack of wisdom, or lack of discipline, or usage of flawed strategies or faulty tactics.
For example, the Horo Guduru resistance movement led by Abishe Gerba Huruba against the occupying Gojjeme force was aborted and Abishe Gerba was captured and taken as a prisoner of war to Gojjam by soldiers of Nigus Teklehaymanot (Adal Tesema) because of Abishe’s lack of knowledge of the position of his opponents who used reconciliation as a means of deception to capture or kill their enemies. Abishe who ruled Horo Guduru from 1855-1877 was cheated and captured at Dire Kokor and humiliated by Gojjame forces who treated him like an animal by putting him under the yoke and burying him alive. Abishe’s army who bragged about their strength saying “Warri Abishee Garbaa, lafa dhiitee darba” (Abishe’s group can shake the earth) were defeated by Gojjame soldiers because they were over confident, didn’t have enough knowledge about their enemies, and didn’t prepare themselves well. Abishe who failed to listen to the advices of his colleagues like Daga Horo and Debelo Ganna who told him that his enemies were not honest, realized lately that he was fooled and finished his hands’ fingers chewing them in regret. That was why an Oromo woman who visited Abishe Gerba in prison in Gojjam said to his face “Abishee, kan godumake irra, kan gowwumake” (you Abishe, you are not only ugly, but also fool). Now, it is my turn to reach the stage to say to the faces of Oromo political leaders that they are both “ugly and fools”.
Rayya Oromo’s revolt of 1940s which was later known as Woyane Rebellion was aborted because of their lack of knowledge that losing leadership leads to losing control over the movement. As recorded by Professor Gebru Tareke and Dr. Laphiso G. Delebo, the Rayya Oromos who started Woyane rebellion against Haileselassie’s government passively accepted when Tigrian Hailemariam Reda who joined their movement took the leadership of the movement from them. In their opinion, who led the rebellion was not important as far as the rebellion continues against Hailesellassie’s government. As a result, they lost control of their movement which was later dominated and owned by Tigrians. When the revolt was aborted, it was the Rayya Oromos who paid heavy price as a result of penalties imposed on them by Haileselassie for rebelling against his government. After 75 years, in 2018, the Oromo youth (Qerro) movement repeated similar mistake by passively accepting when the leadership of Qerro movement was taken over by OPDO leaders. The Qerro thought that what matter most was the removal of TPLF from government power not controlling the power/leadership of the movement. Now, the Oromo youth are complaining that they are brutalized by the forces of an individual whom they brought to the top government power of Ethiopia. Now, they are chewing their fingers in regret like Abishe Gerba- they are losing limbs and lives in protest of the person they brought to power.
In 1992, OLF pulled itself out of the Transitional Government of Ethiopia accusing TPLF for harassing and assassinating its members. OLF’s pullout was because of lack of wisdom how to navigate in Habesha dominated Ethiopian politics. OLF’s withdrawal from the government didn’t stop the harassment and killing of OLF members rather it escalated it and expanded the harassment, arrest, and killing to non-OLF member Oromos. The withdrawal led to the disbandment of OLF members, losing the momentum of operation, breaking of OLF into pieces, distancing of some Oromo elites from the OLF, and weakening of the organization. It took OLF 26 years to officially come back to Finfinne and officially operate in Oromia. Some of the leaders of breakaways of OLF, for example leaders of Oromo Democratic Front (ODF) regretted for withdrawing from Ethiopian Government and requested the TPLF led Ethiopian government to allow them come back to the country and peacefully operate in Ethiopia, but their request was denied. Therefore, they were forced to stay in foreign countries until the change of government happened in 2018.
Not only lacks of knowledge and wisdom, but also lack of discipline negatively affected Oromo political movements. The coup d’état planned to remove Hailesellassie from power in 1966 and led by General Tadesse Biru was aborted because of lack of discipline of individuals assigned to undertake the coup d’état. The individuals who were selected for the operation gave priority to alcohol drink more than the assignment given to them. They wanted to drink as much as they could before they die while conducting the coup and messed up all the plan of the coup. That lack of discipline led to the failure of the plan which led to the persecution of prominent members of Mecha-Tulema Association and the hanging of some of them. Brigadier General Taddesse Birru received death sentence which later converted to life time prison. Even today, after 54 years, Oromo political movement is suffering from lack of discipline of individuals who associate themselves with the movement. Some have problem of controlling their appetite, some have problem of controlling their mouth, some have problem of controlling their tempers, and others have problem of controlling their urge for power, dominance, and popularity.
Flawed strategies and faulty tactics are also other factors which have affected Oromo political movement. For example, Islamic Front for the Liberation of Oromia (IFLO) was failed to succeed because of its flawed strategy and faulty tactic which divided Oromos between Islam and non-Islam.
We can list many more examples that can show how lack of knowledge, lack of wisdom, lack of discipline, flawed strategies, or faulty tactics affected the success of Oromo politics. The question is, have Oromo politicians and elites learned from these past experiences to properly design current and future courses in the benefit of the larger Oromo people? As the skirmishes between Ethiopian Government forces and factions of OLF fighters are escalating in western and southern parts of Oromia, Ethiopia, and national election 2020 is right around the corner, it is critical for the Oromo people to make a choice between going to election or war.
In today’s political environment, it is universally accepted that there is only one lawful government in one country or state. The days of Cold War where an operation of “government with in Government” was supported either by East or by West was over. Only in failed states like Libya we hear the existence of two competing governments in one country. The days when taking government powers through coup and enjoying international recognitions were over. Chairman Mao’s saying of “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun” has been changed to “political power comes from a ballot box”. It is universally accepted principle that only the government is the one who makes laws and enforce laws over a group of people living within its territory. By representing the state/country, government is the only one who has the legitimate right to use or authorize the use of physical force. Government can kill or arrest and gives legal cover for its actions by enacting new laws, enforcing existing laws, or revoking or revising existing laws. Every government implements the religious order which says “Do not worship any god except me” in a modified way—“do not obey any other force except me”. The monopoly on violence or the monopoly of legally using physical force belongs to the government and it is a core concept of modern public law. Individuals who do not like to obey the government must leave the territory controlled by the government they do not like to obey otherwise they will end up in prison or killed. Election gives an opportunity to citizens to remove the government they do not like, but if they failed to remove, they must follow the order of the government in power until it is changed. Rebelling against government or opening war against the government is also an option, but the last and risky option.
The problem we currently having in Ethiopia is that there are numbers of groups who use physical forces or guns to impose their will on the civilian population. They think they have the right to use forces against government, against institutions, against individuals, and against people. As the government is failing to discharge its basic responsibility of maintaining peace and order, the non-government actors who think they have the right to use physical force are increasing in number and coverage. What is more surprising is the actions of legally registered political organizations who promote the use of force on the meetings they organized, legally registered media who publicly encourage the armed struggle, and elites who advocate for armed struggle and violation of laws. I wonder if these registered political parties, registered media, and individuals considered the repercussion of their actions if the Ethiopian Government is going to exercise its power and enforce the existing laws. It is also shocking to see some of the legally registered party officials and staffs continuously posting the videos of songs which praise the rebels, slogans which call for war, and pictures of the rebel leaders. Some registered media staffs are also doing the same. For these individuals, getting “Like” and followers on Facebook or viewers on Youtube is more important than the objective they claim they stand for.
Recently, those individuals and blogs who used to post the pictures of Jaal Marro’s (Kumsa Diribas’s) fighters jumping in the air, playing with their guns, gathering around the body of wild animals they killed, feasting on the meat of wild animals they killed, marching in the forest, and sleeping under the trees using stones as pillows now started posting the bodies of fighters or their supporters killed by government soldiers. Those who used to post the pictures of Jaal Marro’s fighters communicating with mobile phones now started posting complaints about how the cutting of mobile phone services and internet services affected the residents of Wollegga. They failed to understand that it is not possible to eat the cake and at the same time keep it. One has to choose one. War and peace are exclusive to each other like day and night, you can’t have both at the same time at the same place. As Oromos themselves say, “hima diddeen, du’a hin didu” (if you refuse to follow the advice, you must accept the death which came as a result of your refusal to follow the advice). Again the advice or the rule is simple: to avoid the killing, we must avoid circumstances which lead to the killings. If you can’t tolerate the consequences of war, don’t go to war. As the popular saying goes, “if you can’t stand the heat, don’t go to the kitchen”.
Not only Oromo political organizations, TPLF is also in the state of confusion regarding making a choice. It wants to simultaneously eat the cake and keep the cake. TPLF decided not to join Dr. Abiy’s Prosperity Party (PP). However, except issuing press statements, TPLF didn’t take any tangible legal measures to stop the dissolution of EPRDF and PP’s claim to be successor of EPRDF. TPLF complains about its officials who were removed from Federal Government’s position and Addis Ababa’s City Government’s positions. The removals of TPLF members from the Federal Government positions are the normal and expected consequences of TPLF’s decision not to join Dr. Abiy’s new party and one way of challenging this action is through legal means by taking the case to the court. I am not aware of any legal action taken to stop the dissolution of EPRDF and control of government machinery by PP which some consider unconstitutional and illegal. Waiting for the upcoming election 2020 to remove PP dominated government from power through ballot box is also another option.
Moreover, it is embarrassing to see Oromo political organizations committing silly “mistakes” that may lead to the revocation of their license/registration certificate and put their leaders in jail. The simple and observable example is the membership card issued to Jawar Mohammad by OFC without verification of the status of his citizenship and announcing that membership all over the Facebook and media. The speeches that Jawar makes in the recent OFC organized back to back meetings in various zones and districts of Oromia and posted on his Facebook and reported by his chroniclers in OMN makes us to question where does Oromo politics is heading? Are Professor Merera Guidan and Jawar Mohammed who claim to be political scientists and who are supposed to know the nature and characteristics of politics and government better than others are really political scientists? Leave alone about being political scientists, are they good politicians to take Oromo politics forward to go further distance? I am not questioning the degrees they have, but question their actual practice.
The assumption of “too big to fail”, i.e. we are the large party or have many members and supporters so that nothing will happen to us is misleading and killer assumption. As I explained above, the perception of “Abishe’s group can shake the earth” (Warri Abishe Garbaa, lafa dhiitee darba) is misleading and wrong. Tigreans who controlled the politics and government in Ethiopia from 1991 to 2018 are only 6% of Ethiopia’s 100 million people. Israelis who controls the politics of Middle East are very small in number compared to Arabs in the Middle East. Jewish who play crucial role in American economy and politics are small in number. In short, sheer number is misleading and Oromos must realize this fact. Oromo political leaders must focus on the areas where they can achieve results and the Oromo political parties must make an informed choice between preparing themselves for election within the established legal frameworks or to be excluded from the election by continue committing silly mistakes. If they choice to go for election, they have to properly prepare for it based on knowledge and wisdom with appropriate strategies and tactics. Otherwise, they may continue the way they currently operate and finally fail themselves and the Oromo people. If the political organizations continue committing avoidable silly mistakes, the Oromo people who are suffering from the outcomes of the actions of these parties and groups must make a decision either to go to election to achieve their objectives through peaceful means or to war which is costly and has no guarantee for helping them achieve their objectives.
There is no doubt that the current Ethiopian Government, like its predecessors, is taking numbers of illegal actions which leave some groups with the options of either submit, or flight, or fight. For example, Lemma Megersa’s group of OPDO, TPLF, and Jaal Marro’s group of OLF are among the groups which are left with these difficult choices. The Lemma group more or less submitted, the TPLF group chose flight and coiled back to Mekele, and Jaal Marro’s group chose to fight and went to the jungle. All the three choices (tactical submission, retreat with dissatisfaction, and opening fight to remove the government by force) pose danger to the country and its citizens. That is why we are in a critical point in time to make the decision on how to correct the situation. Should we go to election to correct what we think are wrong peacefully or should we go to war to impose the change we want by force? As stated in the Bibile under Mathew 26:52, “Those who use the sword will die by the sword” and we must think twice to pick the second choice. All illegal actions or injustice are not sufficient reasons to go to war.
To make the right choice, we need the right leaders who weigh the cost and benefits of all possible choices and lead us through the difficult journey. When I evaluate the leaders we have, it frustrates me and reminds me the Amharic saying “Bekulo keruk siyayut feres yimeslal” (the mule looks like horse when seen from the distance), i.e. the current political leaders look good when seen only from the distance. Are these all what we got to lead us and what we deserve?
Particularly, the Oromo intellectuals and elites must deliberate on the choice between election and war because Oromos are the ones who are under the Command Post and Oromia is where the war is currently going on. They must come out and speak up so that ordinary Oromos are educated on the available choices. Considering existing Oromo political organizations and their leaders as holly cows must end and where and when necessary we must be able to provide critiques. On my part, I do not want Oromos to have the fate of Palestinians who in 1948 refused to accept the partitioning of Palestine into Jewish and Palestinian states and went to war without proper evaluation of balance of power and lost both the war and their country. I don’t want Oromos to go to war in which they lose both the war and the gains of the last 46 years when they have options to maintain the gains and achieve more through peaceful means including through the participation in election. Rather than preparing for the destructive war, I want them to prepare for the election. Let’s get out of the state of herds mentality and make rational and pragmatic discussions which benefits our people. Finally, let me end this article with the quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, “Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows”.