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Addis Standard & All Africa: Ethiopia: #OromoProtests – the ‘Oromo Street’ and Africa’s Counter-Protest State, part III September 17, 2016

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Ethiopia: #OromoProtests – the ‘Oromo Street’ and Africa’s Counter-Protest State


ANALYSIS 


In the first part of this series, I explored in historic perspectives (particularly with developments in Oromia regional state) the Ethiopian government’s road to becoming a counter-protest state and the systematic ways in which the regime further bolstered its role as a counter-protest state.

And in the second part I discussed about the surge of popular protests in Ethiopia focusing on the socio-political and party architecture in which the ongoing Oromo protests first took shape. In this third, and last, part I will take a close look at the decades-old simmering tensions between the Oromo nation and successive Ethiopian states, discovering what they reveal about the contemporary politics of the Ethiopian counter-protest state vis a vis its relations with the Oromo protests, which, by several measures, have reached a point of no return.

Decades of simmering tensions

Continuous confrontations and tensions between Oromo protesters and the ruling party manifested in Oromia-wide Oromo protests may not be understood fully unless we look back its history. In order to contextualize the on-going Oromo protests, we must consider decades of relationships between the two confronting parties – the Ethiopian state and the Oromo nation – discovering what they reveal to us about the politics of the Ethiopian counter-protest state, and what they suggest about the future prospects of Ethiopia’s political trajectory.

It is indisputable that this massive movement in Oromia is not simply a political phenomenon whose root is limited to the period between 2006-2015; it goes as far back as the 1960s when modern Oromo political activism was born, and even goes as far back as the formation of the Ethiopian state itself.

Yearning since the 1960s for three overarching questions – language, land, and self-rule – Oromo nationalism has been growing more than ever since the introduction in Ethiopia of the multi-national federalism in the early 1990s. While the Oromo question for land has two parts: the homestead (qee’ee) and the Oromo country (biyya-Oromoo), the issue of language became the foundation of identity question. The third, the Oromo question for self-rule in the course of their national struggle, seemed to have been conceived as an ultimate solution capable of addressing the other two.

These three overarching Oromo questions were aired in the 1960s by the Oromo members of the Ethiopian student movement and the Maccaa-Tuulama Self-help Association, and were later on articulated in the early 1970s in the political program of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). These questions have been dealt with piecemeal in the revolutions of 1974 and 1991.

The 1974 revolution succeeded in the promulgation and implementation of a proclamation answering the country’s pressing demand, which was coined through the famous slogan of the student movement – “land to the tiller”; it was able to return plots/homestead to individual peasant households. With the Oromo in view, the 1974 revolution answered the question of qee’ee (homestead) but it had never attempted to deal with the Oromo question of yearning for biyya-Oromoo (Oromo country). Instead it criminalized the demand presenting it as a treasonable crime. The revolution also addressed the Oromo identity claims by allowing some media outlet for Afaan-Oromoo (Oromo language) but the demand to use Latin alphabet (qubee) was made another treasonable crime.

The political change in 1991, however, went far beyond the offers of its predecessor and dealt with more fundamental issues. Demands of Oromo nationalism was legitimized and institutionalized within the state apparatus when the new regime – for the sake of its own legitimacy – decided to offer concessions to decades old national struggles.

Through the federalism arrangement, it created the long sought after Oromo country within Ethiopia in the form of the Oromia National Regional State with its own regional parliament, Caffee Oromiyaa. It also allowed Afaan Oromoo, which had long been criminalized and heavily suppressed under the imperial and socialist Ethiopia, to be recognized as the medium of instruction in schools throughout Oromia.

But as the rule of the TPLF/EPRF began to unfold the problems inherently linked to its system of rule started to unearth. When in 1991 a coalition of rebels overthrew the Derg, the victorious TPLF-led-EPRDF not only took control of the capital city, expanding daily at the expense of Oromo farmers, but also inherited one of Africa’s oldest authoritarian state form, effectively excluding from the country’s politics, economy and cultural manifestation most of the southern peoples (the Oromo included).

As soon as TPLF took control of the center, a dubious, rather feckless Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE), where various political groupings, including Oromo parties of which the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) was prominent, was organized in 1992. Perhaps as part of its concerns to take the OLF on board, the TPLF recognized Addis Abeba as the capital of Oromia and promised that the interests of the Oromo people in the city would be accommodated.

The Transitional Charter that established the TGE (1991-1995) declared, “The special national and political interests of the Oromo are reserved over regions 13 [Harari State] and 14 [Addis Abeba].” In 1995, Oromia’s interest in Addis Abeba was once again recognized by the constitution that created the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE). Article 49, sub-article 5 of the constitution states that “The special interest of the State of Oromia in Addis Abeba, regarding the provision of social services or the utilization of natural resources and other similar matters, as well as joint administrative matters arising from the location of Addis Abeba within the State of Oromia, shall be respected.”

However, the whole scheme boiled down into a political manipulation where the TGE gained the support of Oromo parties and the people’s support for the creation of a lasting TPLF-dominated authoritarian regime. When the TPLF dominated EPRDF ensured its control over Oromia, it went on to purge the OLF out of the TGE in June 1992.

In 1995, when the new constitution transformed TGE into the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE), the TPLF dominated government began employing ambiguities in the constitution and walked in earnest to take full control of Addis Abeba.

In Article 49, where issues of Addis Abeba have been stipulated, three of its sub-articles (sub articles 2, 3 and 5) present contrary provisions, a state of affairs that made the gate wide open for the ruling party’s looming interests over the city. After appointing a TPLF veteran soldier as the mayor of Addis Abeba in 2000, the regime took a bold decision in 2003 to shift Oromia’s capital from Addis Abeba to Adama, 100km southeast of Addis Abeba. When the office of the Oromia regional parliament, Caffee Oromiyaa, was thrown to Adama it appeared that the hope of the Oromo to have their government in the city they believe is the center of Oromia was dashed.

Following the 2003 government decision to transfer Oromia’s seat to Adama the leadership of Maccaa-Tuulama Association (MTA) and Addis Abeba University students immediately organized a protest, which was met with brutal crackdown.

The organizers were imprisoned and MTA was outlawed and had its office looted and dismantled. The university itself dismissed nearly 400 students whom it believed had taken part in the protest. While it was clear that thousands of farmers were evicted between 1995 and 2003, it was, however, the decision to transfer Oromia’s capital from Addis Abeba to Adama that gave birth to the Oromo struggle for Addis Abeba.

The declaration of the proposed “Master Plan” a decade later would mean dashed hopes and broken promises; it breaks up into two what has been known in the narrative of modern Oromo political activism as biyya-Oromoo (Oromo country), a reference to Oromia. On one hand, it is a broken promise because it sustains the regime’s tradition of deciding on issues relevant to biyya-Oromoo without the consent of the Oromo nation. In fact, many believed the implementation of “the Master Plan” would come close to restoration of the former Shewa governorate-general, which in turn would mean a renewed wave of cultural invasion on the Oromo as much as a territorial break up of Oromia.

Addis Abeba’s expansion in historical times had scored the highest record in eviction of the surrounding farmers in its environs, namely, Tuulama Oromo, but the EPRDF regime took this to a new level previously unmatched in Ethiopia’s history. Most peasant households have been and still are poor in Ethiopia but they live on their land and depend on its produce for their livelihoods, whatever its sufficiency.

Tuulama Oromo in this regard appear the most unfortunate for encountering endless evictions since at least the 18th century. Left in isolation from the Oromia National Regional State, Ethiopians in all walks of life, and undoubtedly the TPLF/EPRDF regime, the Tuulama Oromo have been forced to bear unbearable projects accompanying the regime’s intent (whatever the name attached to it) of expanding the city of Addis Abeba with no regard to their way of being.

Coherently conscious

The Oromo population constitutes nearly 40 per cent of Ethiopia’s estimated population of 100 million. Some are adherents of Islam (being involved in more than one sect); others follow different sects of Christianity, and still others adhere to Waaqeffannaa, the Oromo indigenous belief system. In rural Oromia, their social organizations exhibit diverse historical experiences and regional patterns. These few remarks help us appreciate the internal diversity of Ethiopia’s largest ethno-nation.

So far, a number of scholars have made serious attempts to understand the contemporary political status of this diversity within the Oromo nation. While some treated them as a nation others seriously question that status. This diversity, for example, in the eyes of Gebru Tareke, an Ethiopian scholar, made the Oromo nation “a vastly dispersed people with no history of political unity since the sixteenth century.”

Another scholar, John Markakis, wrote, “From the beginning of their historic [population movement] the Oromo did not forge unity above the tribal level, nor did they ever coordinate their efforts for a common purpose. Each tribe pursued its own destiny entirely independent of the others, and inter-tribal warfare was the rule rather than the exception.” Historian Bahru Zewde on his part says “… the incorporation of the nineteenth century has resulted in the denigration of Oromo culture and identity,” but plainly denies the fact that an Oromo country has ever existed before the twentieth century; he argues against a map of Oromo country – Ormania – made by a German missionary J.L. Krapf based on primary historical data he collected ‘during an eighteen-years residence in eastern Africa’ in mid 19th century.

 While Gebru Tareke and John Markakis have taken Oromo internal diversity far beyond limits, it is fairly recognizable that Oromo internal diversity led to considerable divisions that played key roles not only in their historical experiences with Ethiopian systems of rule but also in creating within themselves fissured political groupings.

But the fact that the ongoing Oromo protests engulfed the whole of Oromia in merely three weeks’ time threw some light on the perspectives of these scholars – Gebru and Markakis, for example – who consistently argued against the presence of the Oromo’s nationhood.

 By claiming that Oromoness is counterfeit, that it never existed, that Oromo nation possess within itself lots of local and cultural diversity to develop any coherent consciousness and never possessed an overarching sense of “nationhood”, or that they are inseparably intermingled with various other peoples, “the opponents believe that they can divide, destroy, or, perhaps, wish away Oromo nationalism,” to use the words of Herbert Lewis, who wrote The Development of Oromo Political Consciousness from 1958 to 1994.

While this attitude has clear origins in politics and “interests,” it is facilitated by the general social science discourse that still tends to discount or decry ethno-nationalism. Yet this kind of internal diversity which some scholars employed to question the very existence of the Oromo as a nation is seriously called into question with the start of Oromo protests in November 2015.

Many scholars attempted to understand the challenges of the Oromo national struggle in isolation from the political developments in that tumultuous region of Ethiopia and the horn of Africa. But the on-going Oromo movement appears to have overcome lots of deterring factors long-lived in the Oromo national struggle. In less than four weeks what the Oromo people regarded as a serious threat to their national identity caused a union of massive popular movement that engulfed the whole of Oromia.

A case in point is how Oromo national identity, Oromummaa, has been built over decades and the significant impact it has in uniting a population of close to 40 million for a coherent cause. Oromoness is a reference to all those features that make up Oromo personality.

It is constituted by the entirety of the Oromo culture. It is worth noticing that Oromo activists, artists, political commentators, scholars and politicians appear to have successfully campaigned over the last two decades highlighting the fact that Oromummaa transcends differences in political opinions, religions, and all sorts of background, a concept well articulated in the works of Oromo scholars such as Assefa Jaleta.

Readjusting the narrative

Apparently placed at a precarious position, many scholarly works need to be revisited; there is a need to further investigate facts and collect empirical data to create effective analytical frameworks capable of capturing the whole, more nuanced scenario that would help us better understand the Oromo nation and its indisputable place in the Ethiopian state.

Only then can we appreciate and understand why and how various Oromo politicians chose to establish different political parties after the onset of the 1974 revolution; have decided to join rival political groupings not founded for separate Oromo cause; have even joined the dictatorial military regime – a clear indication that even those of similar social and religious backgrounds understood Oromo problems differently and likewise proposed disputing routes of political struggle.

Only then can we clearly comprehend why Oromia has in the last quarter a century exhibited spatial and temporal mismatch on concerns of opposition to the EPRDF regime. Without readjusting our existing narratives it will be hard to understand how and why the 2014 and the on-going Oromo protest movement overlap and deviate.

Our understanding of the cultural and socio-political stances that are being taken through the Oromo protests movement can also be appreciated when placed into context with issues related to the wider Horn of Africa.

A more accurate contextualizing of these stances can be viewed within the affairs of Ethiopia’s broader issues, and their complexities. The same understanding appeared to have been useful to inform narratives shaping the future of the Oromo national struggle. The days of hiding behind Oromo internal diversity as Ethiopia’s numerical majority with subaltern political constructs are gone, and will not come back again.

It is also incumbent upon us to understand that taking opportunities offered in the current multinational federal system, Oromo youth at secondary schools and junior colleges throughout Oromia, and the ever expanding universities have for the last two and half decades propagated their literature, folklore, music, songs, poetry, theatre, drama, and other forms of cultural revival and actions in these concepts of the Oromo cultural movement. Taking into account the growth of federal universities from less than five when TPLF/EPRDF took power in 1991 to over 30 in 2015, it becomes important to see the relationship between this considerable expansion in higher education and the growth in modern Oromo political activism.

While ‘economic solvency’ remains one of the fundamental points of the Oromo people’s opposition to ‘the Master Plan’, for the growing Oromo consciousness it is by no means comparable to the Ethiopian regime’s project of posing immeasurable challenges to the concept of Oromoness altogether, and all of what it means from the central parts of Oromia, the territory the Oromos believe is “handhuura-Oromia” (Oromia’s bellybutton).

Understanding this is at the same time one of the pillars in symbolization and conceptualization of Oromoness in the minds of the Oromo people. It is such understanding of Oromoness which seems to have brought the new generation of OPDO, discussed in part two of this series, to openly speak against “the Master Plan” in April 2014. There is little doubt that the Oromo nation conceived ‘the Master Plan’ as a threat to their national identity. Styled after popular Arsii tradition, “namni lafa hinqabne, nama lafee hinqabne,” (a person without land is a person without bones).

Hope for millions

After nearly five decades of struggle, the Oromo seem to have learnt from experience and history that an attack on one part is an attack on the whole. Collective memory helps a society to understand both its past, present, and by implication, to imagine its future. It is important to underline here that it is the memory of past injustices and the contemporary aims of the TPLF/EPRDF regime against the future of the Oromo nation that has served as one of the most important tools stirring the ongoing protest.

The Oromo protesters believed that “the Master Plan” violates the territorial integrity and identity of the Oromo and their aspiration to become a self ruling nation. In the perspectives of the protesters rallies across Oromia are rallies for self-defence. The progress of Oromo nationalism over decades appear to have succeeded to present the cause of the Oromo of the central region as the cause of all.

While the government employs the same old narrative of “we have made it possible for Ethiopia’s oppressed nations for the first time to use their own language and exercise their cultures,” public political consciousness seems to have navigated far ahead of this narrative.

As protesters have proved for themselves through their practical experiences that the regime has very little room for implementation of provisions in the same constitution drafted and promulgated under its own dominance, they took up constitutional provisions as weapons against it.

In short, the constitution has become for the Oromo protesters what James Scott theorized as “weapon of the weak.” As the protests set out to start the systematic use of provisions in the constitution by dissent voices within OPDO, the protesters and the opposition became united. It is mainly in this sense that the regime’s propaganda to present the protesters as “terrorists” and “anti-peace” failed to bear fruit.

The struggle for Addis Abeba and the adjacent territories presents the Oromo people with a choice between survival and annihilation as a cultural unit and as a nation. It is this understanding that managed to mobilize the entire Oromo nation throughout Oromia region and tested the limits of the counter protest state that Ethiopia is.

This popular perception has clearly succeeded in establishing in the minds of Ethiopia’s single largest nation that “the struggle for Addis Abeba is the struggle for Oromia.” EPRDF’s killing is far from threatening the Oromo people and all indication suggest that there is no turning back. The slogans have now changed from “No to the Master Plan,” “Oromia is not for sale,” and “Oromia needs autonomous self-government,” to “justice for our blood and lives.”

It is also a hope of millions of Oromo and many more that it is upon the Oromo national struggle to give birth to an efficient national political narrative that, while not compromising unanswered historical questions in Oromia, gives rise to a country-wide coalition of political parties that can realize the old democratic demands of the peoples of Ethiopia, a state of affairs Ethiopia had missed to realize at many historical trajectories.

Despite age-old terrains of relations among various groups of peoples in Ethiopia and the Horn, and where the Oromo people deeply and actively involved themselves for generations, Oromo struggle is a struggle for self-rule as well as one for democracy, struggle for both group and individual rights. Signs of overcoming disagreements and standing together for common cause are being observed at this point of the Oromo national struggle. Appreciable is unequivocal banners carried out by Amhara protesters in support of their Oromo brethren and statements made by some Oromo and Amhara political parties and dialogues initiated by their respective media outlets.

TPLF/EPRDF’s approach of facing popular protests with bloody crackdowns is no longer keeping Ethiopia as a state. The persistence of the Oromo people in the face of the counter protest state’s ruthlessness will also soon begin to reflect itself within the Horn of Africa’s fragile peace and stability position. Any concerned party, be it domestic or international, which takes seriously the Horn of Africa’s peace and stability, must not only understand the framework of today’s popular demands (that refuse to turn back in Ethiopia’s Oromia region), but must also become grounded in the particular historical contexts of this framework.

Ed’s Note: Etana Habte is a PhD Candidate at the Department of History, SOAS, University of London. He can be reached at:ittaanaa@gmail.com


Click here to read related article on #OromoProtests: OPINION: THE QILINTO MASSACRE: THE TRUTH SHALL BE REVEALED

All Africa: #OromoProtests – the “Oromo Street” and Africa’s Counter-Protest State – Part II July 26, 2016

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 Odaa OromooOromianEconomistAddis Standard#OromoProtests in Shukute, West Shewa, Oromia, 23 July 2016 p2OromoProtests, Awaday, Oromia, 1 July 2016#OromoProtests in Dodola, Arsi, Oromia, 25 July 2016


Africa: #oromoprotests – the “Oromo Street” and Africa’s Counter-Protest State – Part II


OPINION  

In the first part of this series, I explored in historic perspectives (particularly with developments in Oromia regional state) the Ethiopian government’s road to becoming a counter-protest state, and proceeded to discuss the systematic ways in which the regime further bolstered its role as a counter-protest state in Oromia. Taking the recent #OromoProtests as a point of departure, in this part of the series I discuss a more recent surge of popular protests, and the socio-political and party architecture in which #OromoProtests first took shape.

The EPRDF-led regime’s ‘decentralization of power’ down the hierarchical administrative structures of the regional states discussed in the first part was also the beginning of how the so called rural, previously isolated communities, experienced the heavy handedness of a central repressive government (the falsification of ‘nation’, and its clearly underlying failures). It is an expression of failures because this type of response is a mark of states that ignore an alternative to their texts of national dialogue and whose intents exemplify regional and ethnic primacies.

The “Oromo Street”: A force derailing Africa’s counter-protest state

By going beyond economic and development topics – which remain very important – this section explores concepts that better explain the roots and trends of these protests, it then outlines dimensions of confrontations between protesters and the Ethiopian counter-protest state.

The importance of looking inward at the course of modern Oromo political activism and its relations with the Ethiopian state cannot be underestimated: tounderstand the roots of Oromo protests we must focus on specific demands in the process and progress of modern Oromo political activism. There are society-state relations toreflectupon that reveal some of the underlying patterns that have made up and shapedthismovement.

Three closely associated features underlying Ethiopia’s society-state relations take form mainly during the incumbent’s rule of the last 25 years: growth of coherent consciousness,decades of simmering tensions,and ’emergence of the Oromo street,’. In an attempt to look inside the Oromo nation at various levels it is important to analyze salient factors in decades of ‘constructions’ that led up to the recent Oromia wide protests.

The modern shaping of ‘the Oromo Street’

Worldwide, the upsurge in popular protest became a powerful tool of global political movements. People throughout the world have been taking to the streets, giving new life to a form of political movement ‘often thought of as a historical relic in today’s era of expanding security states and the apparent triumph of global elites.’ Given recent global protest movements mentioned in the first part of this series, Ethiopia by any standard is not alone in encountering an upsurge in popular movement.

All the major waves of protests in Africa have been by and large limited to urban centers, and when they involve rural areas it has been termed as ‘isolated’ movements. The same is true with the 2005 post election protests in Ethiopia. Oromo protests however have created in Ethiopia a unique ‘street of protests,’ which I refer to as “the Oromo Street.”

The Oromo Street brought together rural and urban protests – those on the ground and online via social media. Areas previously believed to have been ‘isolated and disparate’ have found themselves at the centerof the protest because of the combination of the ground and online (new media technologies and platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram). (Daniel Miller’s, Tales From Facebook expands upon the concept of individuals as networking sites, and examines in detail how Facebook transforms the lives of particular individuals).

Merely seven months after Ethiopia’s ruling party declared a 100 per cent landslide victory in the national election, Oromia, the country’s largest federal state, was placed under full military ‘control’ as protesters swept through the streets in an unprecedented opposition against the ruling EPRDF.

Ignited on 12 November 2015 at Gincii Senior secondary School in central Oromia, the peaceful protests quickly spread as far west asOromia’s outer margins neighboring the Sudan. It then turned north and took the Tuulama Oromo on the train. Whilst continued unabated in the west and north, protests swiftly engulfed eastern Oromo provinces before they reached southern Oromia. Waves of protests quickly engulfed the whole region in merely three weeks between 12 November and 5 December. As rural Oromia and higher education institutions became the scene of Oromo protests, elementary school children and secondary school students also joined the protests – rare in Ethiopian history. In the following weeksthe movement captured, in a rather unusual fashion, federal universities beyond Oromia – Dilla and Hawassa Universities in Ethiopia’s south. Much like federal universities in Oromia, junior colleges, technical and agricultural colleges in Oromia also joined, forming the first and most important “Oromo Street.”

After taking all of Oromia student protests instead took the shape of a well-organized Oromo national movement. This illustrates a distinction from all of its precedents in another feature — it enjoyed a considerable size of support from the Oromo public. Peasants, merchants, unemployed urban youth and some government employees were seen rallying behind student protesters.

That the protests were triggered by a scheme that the Horn of African state called “the Addis Abeba Integrated Development Master Plan,” commonly known as ‘the Master Plan,’ is now exhausted and need not be repeated here. Rural Oromia, and of course urban centers become another productive dimension of the ‘Oromo Street.’

In less than four weeks what the Oromo people regarded as a serious threat to their national identity caused a massive popular movement that engulfed the whole of Oromia. On this occasion no political party made a call; no underground national leadership seem to exist either. The only Oromo opposition party, OFC, live under a constant threat from the state. All but two or three of its national leadership were imprisoned in the waves of arbitrary arrests the regime launched following the start of the movement. Almost all of its members, supporters and sympathizers throughout Oromia have also been jailed, exiled or at the worst killed.

In the course of this popular Oromo movement we heard of OFC’s voice only rarely for understandable reasons. There is no readily available institution to have caused such a regime shaking popular movement. This geographical spread suggests that Oromo protests, despite many precedents in Ethiopia, and Africa at large, are not limited to urban centers; it is at the same time a phenomenon in the rural areas. Even goingbeyond these locations Oromo protest movement gave birth to another productive dimension to its ‘Street’: supporters from the country and an Oromo diaspora connected on social media.

But there is another equally important “Oromo Street.” When modern Oromo political activism was denied a space and every element it possessed began to be systematically criminalized by the same state which legitimized and fostered its growth, it found another informal space as the ruling party opened its door widely for Oromo nationalists to join it as OPDO members.

Ignore at own peril

Between 2006 and 2010 in particular, stifling voices of dissent came to a systematic twist when OPDO invitedthe Oromo youth to become its party members and undertook appointments of middle level cadres from the so called new generation. Given such compelling circumstances however OPDO’s inflated membership turned out to be an instrument of economic, social and political mobility than agenuine political loyalty.

It is at this point that the architecture of repression the regime has built over the last decade under the name of ‘development’ unequivocally met its match: Oromo nationalism.Young nationalist Oromo civil servants, intellectuals and bureaucrats who, before 2006, were sought after, detained and persecuted on allegations of being “OLF members,” “anti-development,” or “anti-peace” were given an opportunity to join the rank and file of OPDO. In doing so, the ruling party believed that it could afford to use- within its structures and leadership – active and politically conscious Oromo nationalists to speak on its behalf and in the process restrain Oromo nationalism. Alas, as events gradually unfolded, this perception of the ruling party rather tended to be counterproductive.

When the EPRDF recently commended its national membership having reached seven million, it failed to realize that hundreds of thousands of Oromo nationalists who wished to work in earnest – and even openly through #OromoProtests – towards the interests and narratives of an Oromo national construct and against the regime, make up a significant portion of that number. When the regime took for granted that it had successfully silenced dissenting voices (particularly in Oromia), it felt safe and relaxed as an electoral authoritarian regime in declaring landslide victories in two consecutive national elections (2010 and 2015). In contrast, modern Oromo political activism was now brewing in its own turf than it has been among the opposition. When the protests broke out in November 2015 and engulfed the whole of Oromia in early December, there was little surprise that one of its immediate achievements was the dismantling of the sub-kebele institutions (gooxii and garee), the main vehicles of control and repression.

While the regime’s policy of claiming Oromo nationalists by recruiting theminto the rank and file as well as into middle level leadership of the OPDO went unabated, in practice it became a creation of formal forum where unconscious and semi-conscious Oromos meet politically conscious and articulate Oromo nationalists. The result was that the OPDO rank and file from kebele levels to the regional bureaus over the last ten years became heavily politicized and very much indoctrinated with the narratives of Oromo nationalism.

Although aware of what was going on within the OPDO, the TPLF dominated EPRDF and the state intelligence structure appear to have perceived it as insignificant; after all, all were de factomembers of the ruling party which had ‘their hands tied and their mouth muzzled’ with party rules and regulation. Besides, since party bylaws allow a process of free discussions, debates and arguments within party members at all levels there has not been any unified method with which the ruling EPRDF can tackle or even hinder these processes. A participant in the processes who was once an OPDO cell leader at one of Oromia’s regional bureaus tells me his experience:

Using the forums set aside for lower level political cadres, ideas raised by participating members, friction of thoughts as well as deficiencies and mistakes of EPRDF were widely reflected upon; the structure allowed for the members to [openly] argue that the overall objective of their party has been wrong. This gave them more opportunity to see internal deficiencies of the party more closely than when they had been outsiders. When they saw that the party has been unresponsive to the demands of their people and more importantly their suggestions many, in the years after 2005, seem to be convinced that the Oromo people need to look for alternative [forums]. I personally know the fact that many young party members became aware of the complex internal problems of the party- both horizontal and vertical (OPDO-TPLF) – has no solution at all. More importantly, participation in the party by the new generation of [politically conscious] Oromo youth called into question political opinions of senior politicians regarded as founders of the party. It is safe to say that most of pre-2005 OPDO members were people of very low education; many of them do not question legality and validity of existing principles and directives under which they serve. Those who joined the party after 2005 were the same students who had been in various schools and universities protesting against the government on behalf of their people and some of them were even leaders of such movements. Since the new members perceive themselves more as part of the society than the party itself, the political debate and arguments they injected into the party structures through the same forums of discussion the party offers at various levels made many members to squeeze their own regime with serious questions. This I believe contributed to the growth of political consciousness within the party and more broadly within the Oromo people, and can safely be stated as having contributed to the on-going Oromo protests.

These circumstances suggest that narratives of the Oromo national struggle centred on Oromummaa/Oromoness (Oromo national identity) have become nurtured through state resources. Clear evidence of this is how in April 2014, the OPDO party structure along with the Oromia regional state bureaucracy made the region’s TV to quickly televise a highly contested debate by OPDO officials openly rejecting, on behalf of Oromo national interests, the state proposed-turned-controversial “Master Plan.”

That Oromo nationalism has raised enough political consciousness not only within the masses of Oromo youth – especially college and university students – but also within the OPDO rank and file. This was demonstrated when an OPDO member who was the mayor of Sulultaa, north of the capital Addis Abeba, boldly aired his objection in a televised meeting allegedly convened to launch “training of trainers” on “the Master Plan.” He openly and eloquently spoke against the proposed “Master Plan” saying: “The question of [how to handle] Addis Abeba city and the surrounding towns [of Oromia] is not an issue of urban matter, it is a matter of identity. When we raise about identity we have to pursue a fundamentally necessary route in which the development of Addis Abeba and the surrounding towns can be addressed in a way that the rights of the Oromo nation can be protected and where the identity politics and history cannot be ignored… “

The way the mayor conceptualized issues surrounding “the Master Plan,” and expressed his fierce opposition to it, has exactly been the same way Oromo protesters spoke against it throughout Oromia. As thesemiddle level cadres strongly tied the subject to some looming danger on the Oromo identity in its entirety, the federalgovernment resorted to reject all concerns underlining that “the Master Plan” would be implemented regardless of what OPDO or the Oromo public may think. This proved the public discourse that “the Master Plan” is a deliberate attempt to dissect Oromia and was perceived throughout the region as a blunt offensive on Oromo identity by the regime. In fact, this time the protest against “the Master Plan” in its finest form began within the EPRDF, not among the Oromo students at various colleges and Universities. Indeed, the first round of the April-May 2014 Oromo protests against “the Master Plan” began in Ambo, 120kms west of the capital, and spread to other parts of Oromia immediately after this fierce debate between OPDO party members against the plan was first televised.

There is very little doubt that Oromo nationalist members of OPDO, now the larger part of its rank and file, were able to manipulate the inner circles of the party for that meeting to be quickly televised. This is so partly because the discipline and mechanisms of control required to advance this kind of argument and debate are very much linked to the interests of the de facto ruling party which will not allow such objections to last long; and partly becausethe act carries sizeable risk for few OPDO officials. Given the fact that the state intelligence, federal police and many other powerful state structures were and are under TPLF control, some of those who spoke against “the Master Plan” in public could have risked death and disappearance. To throw it to an Oromo pubic packed with grievances was, therefore, a safe political bet and a powerful instrument to fight againstthe ever growing manipulative political asymmetry within the EPRDF.

The Adama meeting of April 2014 was a typical manifestation of deep-seated tensions between the Oromo people and the regime in power. While OPDO officials who sided with demands of the Oromo people used the country’s constitution as “weapon of the weak,” only to ask for previously suspended right of Oromia’s self-rule, senior members of the central government used thinly veiled language to express their right of rule over the whole country. The course of the current #Oromoprotests movement to win over the proposed “Master Plan” became a manifestation of growth in coherent consciousness mobilized under the shade of Oromo national identity. By November 2015 there is little surprise that the situation throughout Oromia was ripe for a fully-fledged uprising.

In the third and final part of this series, I will take a close look at the decades old simmering tensions between parties, discovering what they reveal about the politics of the Ethiopian counter-protest state.


Ed’s Note: Etana Habte is a PhD Candidate at the Department of History, SOAS, University of London. He can be reached at:ittaanaa@gmail.com


Read more at All Africa :-

Part II at:-

http://allafrica.com/stories/201607260104.html

 

 

Read part I at:- commentary-oromoprotests-oromo-street-africas-counter-protest-state, part I