Writing in Afaan Oromo – Despite the Challenges
By Caalaa Hayiluu Abaataa
(Untold Stories Online) — Literature is a key-factor for the development of cultures, arts, traditions and everything within a society and nation. It creates a vivid image for anyone who would like to know more about a society – or even country. But it is not only having an alphabetical system that makes a meaningful change and develops the literature of a society. The political system also plays a great role, because despite the importance of literature, many countries’ civilizations have been oppressed because of their arts and literature.
Afaan Oromo (the Oromo language) is a language used by the Oromo people, the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia. It has around 40 million users in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Eritrea and Djibouti, making it the fourth most widely spoken language in Africa. But despite the large number of users, the Oromo people were banned from publishing or teaching in Afaan Oromo until the 1970’s. It was therefore developed only as a spoken language. Due to the oppression by the Ethiopian government, it did not obtain its alphabet until 1991, when the Latin alphabet was adopted.
I have dreamt that the rising sun of Afaan Oromo will never set on the Oromo writers.
Afaan Oromo is, in other words, one of the youngest languages to become a written language. But it still cannot enjoy this gift, the right to be written and to be read, as it should. The written books and the very limited newspapers and magazines (if there even are any still in existence) cannot easily reach to its readers. Though I have written and completed more than ten books in Afaan Oromo that are ready for publishing, I have only been able to publish two books. This is not only a problem that has affected me, but as one of the Afaan Oromo writers, this is a pain we all share together. We do not have a good system which can facilitate and distribute the books to the readers. Why? And when will it be realized?
Our language is under strict oppression and control from the political system in Ethiopia, which limits all the rights a language should deserve. Every single word we write in Afaan Oromo is interpreted narrowly and has been politicized by the Ethiopian dictatorial regime of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Many untold stories and horrendous actions have been committed by TPLF and the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) all over the Oromia regional state for the last 25 years. The OPDO is said to represent the Oromo people in the government, but it is a puppet for the TPLF and does not have the support of the Oromo people.
The oppression is the only reason that the Qubee generation (the generation of the written language) write what is on their mind. And they continue to do so despite being prosecuted, jailed, tortured and disabled physically. Not only the Oromo writers have been jailed, but also their books. In 2014, more than 1500 books were locked away in the town of Naqamte in western Oromia, and 1000 books met the same fate in West Hararge at Oda Bultum. Many books have also been confiscated at Hora Harsadi, Bishoftu during the Irrecha thanksgiving celebration. They burnt more than 300 books in Adama city at the police station after they had confiscated them from sellers. As long as it is written in Afaan Oromo, they take almost everything. Why? The answer is simple. It is only the groundless hatred toward the Oromo people and the Oromo language that makes them do it. It is the Oromo phobia and the phobia against development of our language.
We, as Oromos, still do not have freedom to write what the people want to know and what we would like to deliver to our people. The empire of Ethiopia is still a prison for our nation. We are still sleeping and waiting for others to make a change, rather than awaken and do something ourselves. Our rights will not be given as a free gift from the oppressors and colonizers; it is up to us to struggle and to become a free nation. Let us find our self-determination, let us decide our fate by our own free will, let us do what other free nations are doing all over the world. Let us struggle for the respect of human rights, enjoy our resources and equally distribute properties and live in equality in our father’s land.
They will never stop the Qubee generation from writing all that we need to write and what we want to teach our nation. The suppression of press freedom, rights of expression and the crackdown on all fundamental rights shall not stop writers, bloggers and others from doing what they like to do. We have to decide to write our thoughts, and we must put them on the paper. Yes, we have a potential to write. We are swimming in an ocean of at least some kind of existing literature, and no force can stop us from writing. However, we still do have many problems. The critical questions and problems are: For whom do we write? How will it be delivered to the people? We lack the potential to deliver to the readers, rather than making printed or digital books. We need to change this. One day, it will benefit the next generation!
We are not lucky to have a good political system. But we will never give up. Instead, we will do more and more. We, the writers, poets, artists and those who are interested in developing Afaan Oromo, should be the first in cooperating and standing together to bring genuine change. I have dreamt that the rising sun of Afaan Oromo will never set on the Oromo writers.