TWO more Oromo Organizations? A personal plea to the coordinators of OLC and GGO
by: Bayisa Wak-Woya
I am addressing both of you with this rather detailed letter in my personal capacity as a concerned Oromo. Just wanted to express my deepest concern regarding the ongoing newly created parallel civic society initiatives (Oromo Leadership Convention – OLC and Global Gummi Oromia – GGO) as spearheaded by you, prominent Oromo notables. I hope you will take my observations as a friendly reminder written with the sole objective of contributing to the efforts of our people back home with the tools they badly need to achieve our ( (Ayyaantuu) – common goals. I am confident that you will give due attention to these concerns of mine. Because you have a baggage of years of experience in this field, I am certain that you can jointly design a better way forward to positively impact on the ongoing uprising of our people.
I have been closely following and at times even got involved, directly or indirectly, in lending my experience and expertise to both processes. Because of the close attention I dedicated to the two initiatives, and studying related background documents, I now reached a stage where I find it imperative to share with you, my personal views because I started feeling that we are not moving in a right direction. I am sure it is also the concern of many Oromos in diaspora because the two initiatives started rolling independently and in parallel with the historic Oromo uprising back home. In my view, both processes seem not to have immediate bearing on the uprising, to say the least.
Why I am saying so:
The uprising in Oromia is a success story if one takes into consideration the nature and capabilities of traditional mass movements. Unlike the perpetuated division among the diaspora Oromos, the mass in Oromia acted in unison and with no sign of impending danger of division along regions, religion or political views. That is why it succeeded to shake the foundation of the TPLF regime like never before, sending clear message to the regime that it cannot continue ruling as before. The uprising gave the Oromo people the self-confidence they needed that they can indeed threaten the power base of the regime “provided that……”
And that “provision” which our people back home is lacking and desperately expecting from us, in my opinion, is a hands-on political leadership. The leadership is presumed to come from “somewhere” because the Oromo political organizations back home that could have delivered impromptu leadership are heavily hit by TPLF wrath, their leaders being thrown to jails and their supporters silenced. The people understood the very basic fact that mass uprising can only go for a limited distance but political organizations do go all the way to the end. It may be the case that mass uprisings may even succeed in toppling dictatorial regimes but unless the gap is immediately filled by political leadership, there is a danger that the nation may fall into crisis. So the unquestionable and highly valued tool to help the Oromo people to achieve its ultimate goal is political leadership. And that is what Oromos, no matter where, feel missing.
If what is missing is a hands-on political leadership, then why are we spending such unquantifiable time, energy and human resource to create new mass initiatives (Civic Societies) knowing very well that, these are not what the Oromo people at this particular junction of our historyarelacking?Tomake iteven worse, andbecause ofthecreation ofthe two new initiatives, the existing, already divided Oromo political Organizations, now seem to be divided even further because they naturally have to ally themselves with one of the two processes. In other words, we added two more set of problems to the existing ones: one, we created two stand-alone new civic societies, which are not complementingeach other with their respective constituencies; and two, instead of facilitating the rapprochement between the Oromo political Organizations, we further aggravated the existing divisions among them, because they already started choosing sides.
What is more surprising is the fact that instead of taking the lead in organizing the civic societies, the Political Organizations are now summoned by you, the coordinators of the two initiatives, as members in the process. This is very un-natural to say the least. Political organizations, by definition, are presumed to be the most conscious group in any given society, hence it is incumbent upon them to form civic society groups (women, youth or functional groups like fund-raising, capacity building etc) and monitor their activities – all with the objective of unifying the constituency and to create a solid public support base. Unfortunately, what we are observing now is the opposite. I would have also worried less if the two processes are purely “humanitarian/civilian” i.e. does not involve political organizations, but that is not the case. We see attempts from either initiatives to accommodate this or that political organization.
In my view, we were on the right track when group of eminent Oromo individuals started the process of bringing the Political Organizations together with the objective of charting out common agenda and unified objective to deliver leadership to the ongoing mass uprising. They succeeded and an agreement was reached in Minnesota between the four major organizations and we all cherished and applauded. Building up on that experience and to expand and further strengthen that alliance of the four, the International Oromo Lawyers Association – IOLA -organized a Conference in London where ALL political organizations participated and “faced the nation” and of course, each other. It was declared as a step ahead. In my view, what should have been a logical follow-up undertaking at this stage, is for the two processes (OLC and GGO) to combine their efforts and work on the 4 + others formula, to bring ALL political organizations to a forum where they could discuss the possibility of agreeing on a unified objective and a subsequent unified action, which naturally would have filled the missing gap in the mass uprising back home.
I am deeply concerned about your respective plans to create the two new Civic Societies de facto replacing or duplicating the existing Oromo civic society groups. We all know that our wise older generation, created the Maccaa Tuulamaa self-help Association – (MTA), which for decades has become a landmark of Oromo peoples struggle for freedom. Although created as a self-help association i.e. non-political, MTA existed as symbol of Oromo resistance to successive Abyssinian ruling systems, until its ban by TPLF. So many Oromos sacrificed their lives and as many thrown into jail, and as we speak, still languishing in TPLFs prisons, for no reason other than fighting for the existence of MTA. Notwithstanding the pressure from TPLF back home, MTA continued functioning in diaspora because and similar to OLF, it is running through the blood vein of every Oromo person.
Although not used to its full capacity, MTA activities cover literally everything what the Oromo people needed – awareness/campaign, capacity building, humanitarian assistance, advocacy, solidifying unity among the Oromos etc etc, activities which I now see under the objectives of the two newly created civic society initiatives. In addition to MTA, there are also other less known, but equally important Oromo civic society groups like ORA and OSG, not mentioning the various faith-basedgroups orOromo self-helpcommunities aroundthe world. I believe eachone ofthese non-political organizations contributed to the efforts of our people to achieve its goal. They may not have been super-active, hence, did not succeed in mobilizing the target groups or raise sufficient funds to be disbursed among the needy back home or helped stranded asylum seekers and refugees to ensure the provision of international protection, but these land mark Oromo organizations continue their work, albeit with limited success.
In my view, the decision to now create two new Civic society groups, whose objective and activity are more or less similar to the existing ones, is not the right thing to do. It is not the creation of the new groups which makes it unwise but the decision to create new ones before assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the exiting organization(s), i.e. MTA, ORA, and before reaching a conclusion that they are not usable anymore, is what makes it not right. Common sense and normal practices suggest that one should first identify gaps in the existing organizations and see if the identified gaps could be filled with the resources at our disposal, and only then when it is concluded that it is difficult to fill the gaps, the organizations shall be declared as damaged beyond repair. Then naturally one can opt to create new ones in place of the dead one.
But as far as I remember, there has not been such a review and subsequent conclusion reached about MTA, for example, hence, we rightly presume that MTA is still alive but less active and above all, not damaged beyond repair! Two things to remind ourselves here: a) the strength and weaknesses of an organization is directly proportional to the strength, leadership capacity and dedication of those running it; and b) those who run these Oromo civic society groups (MTA, ORA and OSG), even if it is a volunteer work, are accountable to the Oromo people and remain responsible for the success and failure of these organizations. It does not mean that they have to succeed at all cost (for example, in case of force majeure) but they are accountable to the people i.e. to inform the “owners” the status of the respective organizations.
Further, I see in the planned activities of the two processes (OLC and GGO) that they are going to create parallel Humanitarian and Diplomatic sections within their functional structures. Once again, we have MTA and ORA which are created to do the “humanitarian” part whereas, “diplomacy” in all its forms, is not an activity to be undertaken by civic society but political organizations. It is true that to-date, Oromo political organizations are undertaking their respective uncoordinated, sometimes duplicating diplomatic activities, which obviously yielded very little or no fruit. And that is why, I was previously suggesting that Oromo political organizations should agree on creating, as a minimum, a unified Diplomatic Council to represent them and the entire Oromo nation at all fora. Now, instead of helping the political organizations to create such a unified Council, the newly created civic society initiatives are planning to create new versions of diplomatic and humanitarian task forces. This, in my opinion, in not the right avenue to explore. The ideal would be to help the political organizations to agree on a unified diplomatic council, which by the way, could also coordinate activities of the humanitarian sector.
Now, before I continue with my humble suggestions regarding the way forward, I would like to say the following. Please do not take my suggestions and comments as personal. I am just an Oromo individual like you, equally feeling the pain of our people hence wishing only the best for the common good. I have NO special preference to anyone of you and I also have no special attachment to any other Oromo political organization or the Civic Society, except with IOLA, which I am a proud co-founder. So take it as an honest and brotherly suggestion from a fellow Oromo.
My very simple suggestion: Because you have already started the processes and entered into commitment of all sorts with your respective constituencies, it may not be practical to suggest that you make changes to the process now. Please go ahead and complete this round of your respective conferences – in DC and Minnesota, but once you are through with your respective Conferences, please do start planning to meet and work on a joint project to combine the two processes with the objective of killing both of them. You may wish to maintain a selected skeleton group of elders and experts in mediation/negotiation to continue with the already started Minnesota process of bringing ALL Oromo political organizations under one umbrella. You may as well create a joint expert group to go back to the drawing table and start assessing the status of MTA and ORA. Believe me, it is easier to work on the identified gaps of an existing organizations than creating and building new ones. Maintain the momentum but divert your activities and make them activities of MTA, and you will see the immediate success. In doing so, you are killing two birds with one stone: you are unifying your activities under one umbrella – MTA, and you also send a message to TPLF that MTA is alive and kicking more than ever before. MTA should be alive and be active, at all cost! It is more than a symbol for Oromos!
I have a reasonable fear and worry that if you insist on continuing with your respective activities and in parallel, you are not only procrastinating the rapprochement process between the Oromo political organizations but you are also directly contributing to the weakening, if not death, of the Oromo mass uprising and also MTA. With your respective actions, you are depriving our people the hands-on political leadership they are desperately asking for. And you know very well that, mass movement never achieve its objective without political leadership. That is the only genuine reason why I want your two initiatives to die. Nothing personal! But please, please, please kill them now at their nascent stage because the longer you keep them, it is very likely that you will develop attachment to them, hence, difficult to divorce.
Yes indeed, we do need more Oromo organizations – both civic (women’s association, youth association etc) and professional (Oromo Medical Personnel Association, Oromo Engineers Association, Oromo Artists Association, Oromo Agricultural Experts Association etc), similar to IOLA. That way we could de-congest the political arena, each contributing to the efforts of our people with the things we know best and good at. Unfortunately, and for no good reasons, we all want to be politicians and talk about power, whereas, we could have done a lot for our people had we been organized along our professions, the things we are better at.
I know your worry and legitimate concern about the future of the uprising of our people and I fully understand that it is the only reason why you embarked on these parallel initiatives. It is a very genuine undertaking and you should be commended for that. I wish we all have that courage to undertake such tasks. But, please just pause for a while and see if there is a better avenue to explore. Please focus on the most important missing-link in the Oromo people’s uprising today. And believe me, if you combine your efforts, no one is in better placed than you, coordinators of the two initiatives, to apply pressure on the Political organizations in order for them to come together and discuss ways to create at least tactical coalition around a common denominator.
Don’t be carried away with this feeling of guilt – that we diaspora Oromos failed our people. That usually happens after every failure and it is normal. Keep in mind – we are the least contributors to the uprising back home because the epicenter of our struggle is always in Oromia and not in diaspora. So, let us do what we can and we should, but let us do it right. Let us try to be ALL inclusive and accommodating. If you, the elites, the crème of the society, non-political associations are unable to sit down and sort out your differences for the common good, then what moral authority do you have to complain about the lack of unity among the various Oromo political organizations, which unlike you, do have different objectives or means to achieve their goals. Please be guided by the very Gadaa principle you both uphold, to sort out your differences. And keep in mind, judging from what we have been witnessing for the past three or four decades, don’t be surprised if next year, another splinter group, disagreeing with your ways of doing things, is created complaining something about both of you. And the year after we will have some more coming up. Unfortunately that is the reality. Is that what you really want to perpetuate?
That is all what I have to say now and I am not going to write to you again, at least not on this subject. I have done my part. I am also not expecting a reply from you, so please don’t worry. All what I said above is from the bottom of my heart and with good intention. As an Oromo, and equal stakeholder, I said so because I wanted you to succeed in your endeavors and not to fail. No one is better placed than both of you to bring the political organizations together because you have years of experience in this field. You know the political organizations and their leadership very well, and you can coerce them to sit and talk.
Our people back home are not in short supply of “unity” “awareness” “self-esteem” or “knowledge of Gadaa principles”. They demonstrated to the whole world that they are united from East to West, and North to South with no sign of division along regional or religious lines. It is we, the diaspora Oromos who are lagging behind and suffer from shortages of these items. But please let us not confuse ourselves and the people back home by creating additional organizations.Inanycase, youwill neverevercreate a bettercivicsocietyorganizationthan MTA. The Oromo nation is at a very critical stage of its survival and we can be of help if only we can get our acts together and secure the delivery of the highly demanded a hands-on political leadership – which is the primary task of Oromo political organizations. Let us help them to get closer to each other and to work for a unified objective. Let us help them to be stronger and lead us and not the other way round.
My sincere regards
Geneva, February 25, 2017