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Oromo Studies Association 2017 Annual Conference: Gadaa as an organizing theme of Oromo life July 29, 2017

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Oromo Studies Association 2017 Annual Conference: Gadaa as an organizing theme of Oromo life: Tradition, knowledge and contemporary significance

OSA 2017-Annual-Conferece-Program









Excerpts from a Speech made by the Outgoing Chair of OSA Board of Directors, Prof. Mekuria Bulcha, at the Opening of the 31st OSA Annual Conference on July 28, 2017

Ladies and gentlemen,

OSAOn behalf of OSA Board of Directors and its Executive Committee, I want to welcome you all to this evening’s events. It is with a great sense of satisfaction that I stand before you to open the 31stAnnual OSA conference. The first time I came to Washington was 33 years ago in 1984 to attend the annual conference of Oromo Union in North America. In early July the same year, we had also an international Oromo conference in Berlin organized by the Union of Oromo Students in Europe. Bonnie Holcomb and the late Mammo Dibaabaa attended the conference from the US. The late Sisai Ibssa sent a paper to be read at the conference. It was then that we started to think about organizing an Oromo studies association. Few years later, OSA was formally organized. Since then, I have been coming almost every year, sometimes twice a year, to this country because of Oromo studies.

By and large, we have been conducting Oromo studies for more than three decades without financial support or institutional backing. Given the circumstances, I never imagined that we could write so many articles and books on Oromo history, culture, and language. When I say many books and articles, I am talking in relative terms reflecting on the knowledge that existed about the Oromo people when we started. If we take the gadaa system, for example, we had only Professor Asmerom Legesse’s classic book, Gadaa: Three Approaches to African Society published in 1973. Today, we have several books, doctoral dissertations, and journal articles on the gadaa system and many other topics concerning the Oromo society. In the 1970s and 1980s, there were very few articles published on Oromo history in international journals. Today, there are many books on the subject, most of them written by Oromos themselves. New ones keep on coming.

Although what has been achieved is what we had never imagined, what we have done so far is not more than a scratch on the surface. There are great gaps in our knowledge about Oromo history, Oromo language, and Oromo culture that are waiting to be filled. Without adequate knowledge about our past, we cannot make an adequate assessment of our present concerns, or have a clear vision of our future as a nation.

That said, Oromo studies should not limit itself to Oromia or the Ethiopian region. It must  go beyond the present Ethiopian borders, look into the cultural and historical affinities the Oromo seem to have, particularly with the peoples of Nubia and ancient Egypt. It is interesting to note that culturally, significant similarities in hair style, dress, etc. that  resemble Egyptian hieroglyphics motifs are still found among the Oromo. There are many artifacts and outfits used by Oromo abba gadaas and qaalluuswhich resemble the outfits that decorate the statues of Egyptian pharaohs. The resemblance between the ancient Egyptian concept of maat and Oromo concept of nagaa, both of which reflect ethics that regulate order and harmony provide execiting area for scholarly investigation regarding the probable affinity between the philosophies and cultures of the two peoples.

In addition, there are intriguing linguistic elements that indicated similarities between Afaan Oromooand the ancient language of the Berbers of North Africa. In short, there are historical, cultural, and linguistic factors which suggest Oromo affinity with the ancient peoples of Northeast Africa, countering the controversial theory about Oromo migration from the south in the sixteenth century in Ethiopia.

When we turn south, the interaction of the Oromo people with the inhabitants of East Africa is not less interesting. As brilliantly presented in Professor Gufu Oba’s new book, Herder Warfare in East Africa, the Oromo influence in the region from 1300 to 1900 seems to have been very substantial. Starting from Jubaland in southern Somalia and stretching south to Tanzania, the Oromo role in the history of the region was very significant.

That colonialism alienates the colonized from their true history is well-known among scholars. Hence, it is needless to stress here that distortion of history and suppression of information about Oromo society has been the policy of Ethiopian regimes for more than a century. Ethiopianist scholars have also contributed much to the distortion and cover ups. Consequently, there are important areas in Oromo culture and history that remain barely touched by researchers to this day. For example, very little study is done on Oromo social and environmental ethics. The Oromo moral and philosophical principles of Safuu and Nagaa which offer a unique model for passing over life on to future generations are waiting for exploration by scholars. The usefulness of Oromo philosophies, eco-knowledge, and social ethics in these times of glaring lack of environmental ethics, religious fanaticism, right wing political extremism, and lack of respect for human lives should be appreciated and mediated to the rest of the world.  The recognition of the gadaa system and the irreecha festival by UNESCO as intangible heritages of humanity in 2017 can be used as an opportunity to share with the world from the pool of traditional Oromo knowledge mentioned above.

In short, opportunities are abound for those who are interested in Oromo studies. As indicated above, there are numerous untouched areas to investigate. However, there are many challenges to be confronted as well. Acquisition of institutional and financial support requires hard work from OSA members.

The future of Oromo studies depends on our ability to recruit young scholars for research in Oromo language, history, and society. Therefore, building networks with researchers at home is very important.  Our cooperation with non-Oromo scholars engaged in African studies is also crucial. As a diaspora organization, OSA cannot do everything, but a lot more can be done.

Much more can be said about available research opportunities that OSA has as well as challenges that are confronting it. But, since we have many panels and round table discussions on dozens of topics in the next two days, I will not take more of your time with what should be done, I will use the few minutes I have to thank those who have been working hard to discharge their duties as members of the Board of Directors and OSA Executive Committee since August last year. ….. Last, but not least, I would also like to thank the local organizing committee who made this splendid evening possible.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your attention and please enjoy your dinner and the rest of the evening.


Oromia: Qallačča and Bokkuu: Themes in the ancient Qaallu institution and rock paintings of Hararqee— implications for social semiosis and history of Ethiopia July 23, 2017

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Qallačča and Bokkuu: Themes in the ancient Qaallu institution and rock paintings of Hararqee— implications for social semiosis and history of Ethiopia

In Journal of Sociology and Anthropology
Vol. 1(4), pp. xxx – xxx, July 2013 DOWNLOADED

By Dereje Birbirso (PhD)
School of Foreign Language, College of Social Science and Humanities, Haramaya University

 Little or none is known about the social origin and meaning of the ancient rock paintings of Ethiopiaand Horn of Africa. This article critically analyzed some of the ancient rock paintings of Hararqee (Eastern Ethiopia) with the intention to understand the social semiotical and rhetorical structures that underlie beneath these social ‘texts’. It did so through using the ancient Qaallu Institution of the Oromo of East and Horn of Africa as analytical device. Multi-disciplinary approach that combined concepts
from various disciples was adopted as a guiding theoretical framework, while the Eurocentric approach that mystifies and de-Ethiopinizes them was rejected. Field data was collected from various sites besides archival data. Informants expert with the local’s social epistemology or wisdom were selected and used as ‘critical friends’. The results revealed both substantive and methodological insights.
Substantively, it suggests that the Oromo Qaallu Institution and its sub-themes such as the preChristian belief in Black Sky-God, line of descent and identity, kingdomization, pastoral festival, and bovine symbolism crosscutting all of these. Methodologically, the unique Oromo social semiosis which can be referred to as ‘metaplasmic witticism’ appeared as the underlying rhetorical structure.
Key words: Oromo, Qaallu institution, Horn of Africa, Ethiopia, ancient rock paintings, language, social semiosis, Laga Oda.

The Oromo Nation: Toward Mental Liberation and Empowerment July 24, 2016

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Odaa Oromoo

OromianEconomistDr. Asafa Jalata and Dr. Harwood Schaffer


The Oromo Nation:  Toward Mental Liberation and Empowerment

By  Dr. Asafa Jalata and Dr. Harwood Schaffer,  in The Journal of Oromo Studies, 2016)*

In the second decade of the 21st Century, the Oromo people face a monumental national crisis that requires their urgent recognition and resolution. The Tigrayan-led Ethiopian government has clearly recognized the potential of the Oromo nation and is determined to destroy and/or suppress it by engaging in state terrorism and genocidal massacres, conducting mass arrests, violating human rights, and eliminating opposition leaders and their potential successors while replacing them with Afaan Oromo speaking nafxanyas (colonial settlers) and Oromo collaborators. The current regime continues to expropriate Oromo economic resources—including land—and transfer them to Tigrayans and their regional and global capitalist supporters. This regime has also begun the practice of enslaving and selling young Oromo girls and girls of other nationalities to Arab countries that have no respect for human dignity and rights. All these have  occurred in the era of globalization or transnational capitalism, as global, regional, and local forces have been integrated through the intensification of globalizing processes known as deepening and broadening.[2] As a result, with the financial, military, diplomatic, and intelligence support of global and regional powers, the Tigrayan-led Ethiopian regime has been focused on dismantling and destroying the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF)—the hallmark, symbol, pride, and hope of the Oromo nation—and other independent Oromo civic and political organizations.[3]

The attack on independent Oromo political and civic organizations and institutions was intensified before the Oromo national movement managed to achieve maturity. The consolidation of the Oromo national leadership and the maturation of Oromummaa (Oromo nationalism) are still incomplete. As such, the movement’s ability to defend itself from internal and external enemies has been significantly compromised. These challenges confronted the Oromo national struggle before the Oromo leadership was able to develop the ideological coherence and organizational capacity to catapult the Oromo national movement to an advanced stage. The crisis of the Oromo national leadership has emerged from both external and internal sources and Oromo nationalists urgently need to address both in order to find an appropriate solution. The impacts of external forces (e.g. Amhara-Tigray colonial structures and global capitalism) have been adequately addressed in books and scholarly articles.[4] We now need to focus on the internal crises facing the movement’s leadership.

In our attempt to examine this internal dilemma, we address four major interrelated issues. First, we provide historical and cultural background to contextualize the problem in question. Second, we explore how Ethiopian colonialism has affected the process of the formation of Oromo elites and leaders. Third, we identify and examine the connections between liberation knowledge, the inferiority complex, and mental liberation in the development of a revolutionary consciousness. Fourth, we share some ideas on how to promote the development of mental liberation as a means of constructing a revolutionary consciousness. In addition, we suggest ways to cultivate Oromummaa (culture, identity, and nationalism) so that a united Oromo national leadership may be forged—from the bottom up—around a common denominator, thus ensuring the survival and liberation of the Oromo nation and other captive nations from the yoke of Ethiopian colonialism and global imperialism.[5]

Conquest and colonial subjugation within the Ethiopian Empire

Before Abyssinia/Ethiopia colonized the Oromo and other nations in the Horn of Africa with the help of European powers in the late 19th century, the Oromo presided over a form of republican government known as the gadaa/siqqee system.[6] From the 15th until the mid-17th century, the gadaa/siqqee government was organized on three levels: national, regional, and local. According to Lemmu Baissa, the Oromo government “was led by an elected luba council formed from representatives of the major Oromo moieties…under the presidency of the abba gadaa and his two deputies…. The national leadership was responsible for such important matters as legislation and enforcement of general laws, handling issues of war and peace and coordinating the nation’s defense, management of intra-Oromo clan conflicts and dealing with non-Oromo peoples.”[7]

However, due to the geographical expansion of the Oromo territory and an increasing population, the central gadaa/siqqee government declined beginning in the mid-17th century and autonomous regional and local republics took its place. These regional and local governments formed pan-Oromo confederations to defend themselves from external enemies.[8] The rule of law and social equality were the guiding principles of thegadaa/siqqee system.[9] Although we have limited knowledge of Oromo history before the sixteenth century, it is reasonable to think that these people did not invent the gadaa/siqqeesystem while they were establishing Biyyaa Oromoo (what we now call Oromia). Historical studies suggest that during the 16th and 17th centuries, while various peoples were fighting over economic resources in the Horn of Africa, the Oromo were effectively organized under the national gadaa government for both offensive and defensive wars. According to Virginia Luling, “from the mid-16th to the mid-19th century the  [Oromo] were dominant on their own territories; no people of other cultures were in a position to exercise compulsion over them.”[10]

The gadaa/siqqee government organized and ordered society around political, economic, social, cultural, and religious institutions.[11] Bonnie Holcomb notes that the gadaa system “organized the Oromo people in an all-encompassing democratic republic even before the few European pilgrims arrived from England on the shores of North America and only later built a democracy.”[12] This system exhibits the principles of checks and balances (through periodic succession of leaders every eight years), division of power (among executive, legislative, and judicial branches), balanced opposition (among five parties), and power sharing between higher and lower administrative organs to prevent power from falling into the hands of despots.[13] Other principles of the system included balanced representation of all clans, lineages, regions and confederacies; the accountability of leaders; the settlement of disputes through reconciliation; and respect for basic rights and liberties.[14] There were five miseensas (parties) in gadaa; these parties have different names in different parts of Oromia.[15] All gadaa officials were elected for eight years by universal adult male suffrage.

Colonialism and the Underdevelopment of Oromo Leadership 

The Ethiopian colonial state destroyed the leaders of the conquered nations in the Horn of Africa who fought against Abyssinian/Ethiopian colonialism, co-opting those leaders who would collaborate with the system as intermediaries.[16] Abyssinian access to European guns, cannons, technology, diplomacy, and administrative skills were utilized in colonizing these various nations, the largest of which was the Oromo. This paper focuses on the experience of the Oromo as a case study of the ways the Abyssinian/Ethiopian rulers have systematically destroyed the leadership capacity of the conquered peoples.

The Abyssinians systematically engaged in massacring and repressing Oromos while reorganizing Oromo society in order to control and exploit the Oromo people and their resources. Since the colonization of the Oromo people (as we shall see below), one of the goals of the Ethiopian state has been the destruction and underdevelopment of the Oromo people and their leadership; the Amhara-Tigray state has used both violent and institutional mechanisms to ensure that the Oromo people remain leaderless while it continues to repress and exploit them. To ensure its colonial domination, the Ethiopian state destroyed and/or suppressed Oromo institutions (e.g. the aforementioned gadaa/siqqee system, as well as an indigenous Oromo religion known as Waaqeefata) while glorifying, establishing, and expanding the Amhara-Tigray government and Orthodox Christianity. The state also sought to suppress Oromo history, culture, and language while promoting that of the Abyssinians.

Ethiopian settler colonialism was firmly established in Oromia through the imposition of five institutional arrangements in order to tightly control Oromo society and intensify its exploitation: (1) garrison cities and towns, (2) slavery, (3) the colonial landholding system, (4) the nafxanya-gabbar system (semi-slavery), and (5) the Oromo collaborator class.[17]The colonialists have been concentrated in garrison cities and towns and formulated political, economic, and ideological programs that they used to oppress their colonial subjects.[18] The settlers expropriated almost all Oromo lands, and forced most Oromos to work on these lands without payment. The Oromo intermediaries have been used in subordinating the Oromo people to the colonial society. Many people were enslaved and forced to provide free labor to the colonial ruling class, while others were reduced to the status of semi-slaves so they could provide agricultural and commercial products and free labor for their colonizers. As a consequence of these efforts, the Ethiopian state successfully destroyed and/or suppressed Oromo institutions and independent leaders and replaced them with its own leaders and political, religious, and educational institutions; colonialism also fractured Oromo culture and identity.

The Ethiopian state targeted any sense of Oromoness (Oromummaa) for destruction and established colonial administrative regions to suppress the Oromo people and exploit their resources. As a result, Oromo relational identities were localized and disconnected from the collective identity of national Oromummaa. On a national level, the Oromo were separated from one another and prevented from exchanging goods and information for more than a century. As a result, their identities were localized into clan families and colonial regions. They were also exposed to different cultures (i.e., languages, customs, values, etc.) and religions and have adopted some elements of these cultures and religions because of the inferiority complex that Ethiopian colonialism sought to create in them. Consequently, until Oromo nationalism emerged, Oromoness primarily remained on the personal and the interpersonal levels since the Oromo were denied the opportunity to form national institutions. In addition, today there are members of Oromo society and elites who have internalized clan and externally-imposed regional and/or religious identities because of their low level of political consciousness or because of opportunism on their part, exhibiting the lack of a clear understanding of Oromummaa or Oromo nationalism.

Overcoming several obstacles, the founding fathers and mothers of Oromummaa created two pioneering organizations in the 1960s and 1970s: the Macha-Tulama Self-Help Association and the Oromo Liberation Front respectively. These organizations acted as a roadmap for the burgeoning Oromo national movement. Unfortunately, the national movement has since been confronted externally by the forces of Ethiopian colonialism – with assistance from their global supporters – and internally by an Oromo collaborator class that serves the interests of the oppressor of the Oromo people. Some Oromo elites have become raw materials for the Tigrayan-led Ethiopian regime and have implemented its terrorist and genocidal policies in the puppet parliament, the administration, and the army, and have participated in imprisoning and killing Oromo nationalists. These internal agents of the Ethiopian government have also participated in robbing Oromo economic resources. As Frantz Fanon notes, “The intermediary does not lighten the oppression, nor seek to hide the domination…he is the bringer of violence into the home and into the mind of the native.”[19] The Oromo national struggle has to solve the internal problem of Oromo society before it can fully confront and defeat its joined external enemies.

It is estimated that the Oromo intermediary elites are the numerical majority at the lower echelons of the Ethiopian colonial institutions. These intermediaries have joined the Tigrayan-created and -led organization known as the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) to satisfy their personal interests at the cost of the Oromo nation. It is true that every colonized nation has a collaborator class that fulfills its interests and the interest of its colonial masters. However, a few elements of this class clandestinely defend the interest of their people. For example, some Eritrean and Tigrayan intermediaries under the Amhara-led Ethiopia protected the interests of their respective people. What makes the Oromo collaborator class different, however, is its total commitment to serve the oppressor (except in a few cases) without being sympathetic to their own people. Ethiopian history demonstrates that key Oromo collaborators have been king makers and have protected the Ethiopian Empire without seeking authority for themselves and their people. “The oppressed learn to wear many masks for different occasions;” Frantz Fanon notes, “they develop skills to detect the moods and wishes of those in authority, learn to present acceptable public behaviors while repressing many incongruent private feelings.”[20]

Most Oromo members of the OPDO clearly exhibit such public behaviors. In every colonized society, those who collaborate with the dominant society are less competent and less accomplished, and yet they are “rewarded extravagantly with fame, fortune and celebrity status simply by their confirmation that the master’s consciousness and his reality is the correct way to think.”[21] While imprisoning or killing independent Oromo leaders, the successive Ethiopian regimes have promoted to positions of authority less competent Oromo collaborators who have internalized and manifested their masters’ worldviews. The Oromo collaborator elites are politically ignorant and harbor an inferiority complex that has been imposed on them by the Amhara-Tigray colonial institutions. According to Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan, “Prolonged oppression reduces the oppressed into mere individuals without a community or a history, fostering a tendency to privatize a shared victimization.”[22] Since they have been cut from their individual biographies and the collective Oromo history, members of the Oromo collaborator class only know what Amhara or Tigrayans have taught them and, as a result, they constantly wear “Ethiopian masks” that have damaged their psyches.

The colonizer was never content with occupying the land of indigenous peoples and expropriating their labor; he also declared war on the psyches of the oppressed.[23] By introducing an inferiority complex, the Amhara-Tigray state attacked the Oromo culture and worldview in order to alter the perspective of the colonized Oromo from independence to dependence; consequently, every colonized Oromo subject who has not yet liberated his/her mind wears an Ethiopian mask by associating his/herself with Ethiopian culture and identity. As Fanon asserts, “All colonized people—in other words, people in whom an inferiority complex has taken root, whose local cultural originality has been committed to the grave—position themselves in relation to the civilizing language…. The more the colonized has assimilated the cultural values of [the colonizer], the more he [or she] will have” imitated his/her masters.[24]  As European colonialists did, the Amhara-Tigrayan colonizers have manufactured the Oromo collaborator elites in order to use them in their colonial projects. According to Bulhan, “in prolonged oppression, the oppressed group willy-nilly internalizes the oppressor without. They adopt his guidelines and prohibitions, they assimilate his image and his social behavior, and they become agents of their own oppression. The oppressor without becomes…an oppressor within…. They become auto-oppressor as they engage in self-destructive behavior injurious to themselves, their loved ones, and their neighbors.”[25] It is no wonder that some members of the OPDO, from ordinary individuals to high officials, engage in imprisoning, killing, and robbing members of Oromo society, particularly those whom they suspect of sympathizing with or supporting the Oromo national struggle.

The Oromo self has been attacked and distorted by Ethiopian colonial institutions. The attack on Oromo selves at personal, interpersonal and collective levels has undermined the self-confidence of some Oromo individuals by creating an inferiority complex within them. Consequently, the manufactured Oromo elites are abusive to their people and they confuse their individual ambitions and interest with those of the Oromo nation. What Fanon says about other colonial intermediary native elites applies to the Oromo elites: “The European elite undertook to manufacture native elite. They picked out promising adolescents; they branded them, as with a red-hot iron, with the principles of Western culture; they stuffed their mouths full with high-sounding phrases, grand glutinous words that stuck to the teeth.”[26] Since most Oromo elites who have passed through Ethiopian colonial institutions have not yet achieved psychological liberation, they consciously or unconsciously prefer to work for their colonial masters rather than work as a team on the Oromo liberation project.

What Walter Rodney says about the consequences of the colonial educational system in Africa also applies to the situation of Oromo intermediaries: “The colonial school system educated far too many fools and clowns, fascinated by the ideas and way of life of the European capitalist class,” he says. “Some reached a point of total estrangement from African conditions and the African way of life…. ‘Colonial education corrupted the thinking and sensibilities of the African and filled him with abnormal complexes.’”[27] Similarly, some Oromo intermediaries who have passed through the Ethiopian colonial education system have been de-Oromized and Ethiopianized, and have opposed the Oromo struggle for national liberation. Colonial education creates submissive leaders who facilitate underdevelopment through subordination and exploitation.[28]  Considering the similar condition of the African Americans in the first half of the 20th century, Carter G. Woodson characterized the educated Black as “a hopeless liability of the race,” and schools for Blacks as “places where they must be convinced of their inferiority.”[29] He demonstrated how White oppressors controlled the minds of Blacks through education: “When you control a man’s [or a woman’s thinking] you do not have to worry about his [or her] actions. You do not have to tell him [her] not to stand here or go yonder. He [or she] will find his [or her] ‘proper place’ and will stay in it.”[30] The behaviors and actions of the educated Oromo intermediaries parallel what Woodson claims about the educated African-Americans. But, starting in the mid-20th century, most African-American elites developed nationalist political consciousness by overcoming their inferiority complex and participating in their national struggle for liberation.

There are also biologically and culturally assimilated elements that like to disassociate themselves from anything related to the Oromo. Most biologically and culturally assimilated former Oromos, like their Habasha masters, are the defenders of Habasha culture, religion, and the Amharic language and the haters of Oromo history, culture, institutions, and Afaan Oromoo.  Explaining similar circumstances, Fanon notes, “The individual who climbs upinto white, civilized society tends to reject his black, uncivilized family at the level of the imagination.”[31] The slave psychology of such assimilated Oromos has caused them also to prefer the leadership of the Amhara or Tigrayan oppressor.[32] Through his seven years of experimentation and observation in Martinique, Frantz Fanon concluded that the dominated “black man’s behavior is similar to an obsession neurosis…. There is an attempt by the colored man to escape his individuality, to reduce his being in the world to nothing…. The [psychologically affected] black man goes from humiliating insecurity to self-accusation and even despair.”[33]

These conditions apply to all colonized, repressed, and exploited peoples. Therefore, some Oromos also face similar problems. Furthermore, the attack on Oromo families and national structures introduced psychological disorientations to Oromo individuals, and incapacitated their collective personality. The family—as a basic institution of any society—provides guidance in values, norms, and worldviews and acts as the educational and training ground for entry into that society.[34] Because Oromo families have lived for more than a century under colonial occupation and because Oromo national institutions were intentionally destroyed or disfigured by Ethiopian colonial institutions, the Oromo people lack the educational, cultural, ideological, and experiential resources to guide their children in the process of building national institutions and organizational capacity. Oromo individuals who have lived under such conditions face social, cultural, and psychological crises and become conflict-ridden.

Due to these complex problems, the low level of political consciousness, and an imposed inferiority complex, those who claim that they are nationalists sometimes confuse their sub-identities with the Oromo national identity or with Ethiopian identity. According to Fanon, “The neurotic structure of an individual is precisely the elaboration, the formation, and the birth of conflicting knots in the ego, stemming on the one hand from the environment and on the other from the entirely personal way this individual reacts to these influences.”[35] The Ethiopian colonial system—as well as cultural and religious identities—was imposed on the Oromo creating regional and religious boundaries. Under these conditions, personal identities (e.g. religious affiliation) replaced Oromoness—with its unique values and self-schemas—and Ethiopianism replaced Oromummaa. Colonial rulers saw Oromoness as a source of raw material that was ready to be transformed into other identities. Since most of these individuals are psychologically damaged, they run away from the Oromo national identity. Are genuine Oromo nationalists free of these psychological crises?

The Psychological Legacy of Ethiopian Colonialism

Through political, educational, and religious institutions and the media, the Ethiopian colonial elites and their successive governments have continuously created and perpetuated negative stereotypes and racist values regarding the Oromo people[36] and have led some Oromos to think negatively about themselves. That is why some Oromo parents reject Oromo names and give Amhara or Arab names to their children in order to assimilate them into the cultures they consider superior. Some educated Oromos also develop self-hatred and self-contempt and wear the masks of other people. Ethiopian colonialism and racism have made some Oromo elites hate their culture and language and avoid self-discovery. The process of de-Oromization creates alienation among some Oromos and imbues them with distorted perceptions of their own people. Everything Amhara-Tigray is praised and everything Oromo is rejected and denigrated; the colonialists have depicted the Oromo as barbaric, ignorant, evil, pagan, backward, and superstitious.

In order to avoid these perceived characteristics, some Oromo elites who pass through the Ethiopian colonial education system are Amharized and Ethipianized The colonization of the Oromo mind has indoctrinated Oromo students in order to isolate them from their families and communities and distort their identities by disconnecting them from their heritage, culture, and history.[37] Oppressors don’t just want to control the body of the oppressed; they want to control their minds, thus ensuring the effectiveness of domination and exploitation. Na’im Akbar succinctly explains how the mental control of the oppressed causes personal and collective damage: “The slavery that captures the mind and imprisons the motivation, perception, aspiration and identity in a web of anti-self-images, generating a personal and collective self-destruction, is [more cruel] than shackles on the wrists and ankles. The slavery that feeds on the mind, invading the soul of man [or woman], destroying his [or her] loyalties to himself [or herself] and establishing allegiance to forces which destroys him [or her], is an even worse form of capture.”[38]

The mental enslavement of most Oromo elites is the major reason why the Oromo, who comprise the majority of the population, are brutalized, murdered, and terrorized by the minority Tigrayan elites. What about the Oromo nationalist elites who are struggling for Oromo national self-determination? Are they mentally free? Why have they failed to build a united Oromo national leadership? There is no question that most of the founding fathers and mothers of Oromummaa or Oromo nationalism were mentally liberated heroes and heroines; that was why they created the Macha-Tulama Self-Help Association and the Oromo Liberation Front and paid the ultimate sacrifice. There have been thousands of Oromo nationalists who have followed in their footsteps and paid dearly. What about other Oromo nationalists (particularly leaders) who have partitioned the Oromo national movement by dividing it into different political factions? Oromo nationalists have failed to unite Oromo divided communities, which have been easily infiltrated by the enemies through clan and/or religious bonds. In addition, because of the inferiority complex that the enemies have inculcated in the Oromo mind, some Oromos have failed to respect Oromo leadership, just as Oromo leaders have failed to respect their followers. The nationalist Oromo elites, by failing to overcome the deeply entrenched divisions that the enemies of the Oromo created, have drastically failed to establish a united national movement.

Generally speaking, the necessity of liberating the Oromo mind from psychological oppression through liberation knowledge and consciousness-raising is totally ignored or unrecognized. Due to their political ignorance and ineptitude, Oromo intellectuals and political leaders have failed to organize the masses into a grassroots movement. As a result of psychological crises and oppressive institutions, Oromo collective norms and organizational culture are at a rudimentary level at this historical moment. Therefore, the enemies of the Oromo have found ample political opportunity to mobilize some Oromos against the Oromo national movement. Without the emancipation of Oromo individuals from the inferiority complex and without overcoming the ignorance and the worldviews that the enemies of the Oromo have imposed on them, the Oromo cannot have the self-confidence necessary to facilitate individual liberation and Oromo emancipation. Although it is uncomfortable to recognize the impacts of the psychology of oppression on the Oromo minds, the Oromo national struggle must engage in mental liberation by building liberation knowledge and political consciousness.

Liberation Knowledge, Consciousness-building, and the Politics of Empowerment

In order to achieve psychological liberation via the development of political consciousness, it is essential to understand the process of oppression by learning about the bankruptcy of assimilated Oromo elites and the crises in both individual Oromo biographies and collective Oromo history. As Bulhan asserts, “The experience of victimization in oppression produces, on the one hand, tendencies toward rebellion and a search for autonomy and, on the other, tendencies toward compliance and accommodation. Often, the two tendencies coexist among the oppressed, although a predominant orientation can be identified for any person or generation at a given time.”[39] The oppressed are chained physically, socially, culturally, politically, and psychologically; hence it is difficult to learn about these problems and search for ways to overcome them. Conscious elements of the oppressed “opts for an introspective approach and emphasizes the need to come to terms with one’s self—a self historically tormented by a formidable and oppressive social structure.” [40]

As the current national crisis unfolds, Oromo nationalists in general and leaders in particular should start to engage in critical self-evaluation in order to identify the impact of oppressive and destructive values and behaviors on the Oromo political performance. Psychological liberation from ideological confusion and oppression requires fighting against the external oppressor and the internalized oppressive values. Most oppressed individuals understand what the oppressor does to them from outside, but it is difficult to comprehend how the worldviews of the oppressor are imposed on them and control them from within. As Bulhan explains, “institutionalization of oppression in daily living … entails an internalization of the oppressor’s values, norms, and prohibitions. Internalized oppression is most resistant to change, since this would require a battle on two fronts: the oppressor without and the oppressor within.”[41]

The Ethiopian colonial system has denied education to almost all the Oromo in order to keep them ignorant and submissive. Even those few who have received colonial education have not been provided with a critical education and knowledge for liberation. As Woodson says, colonial education is “a perfect device for control from without.” [42] So it has been difficult and challenging for most Oromo elites to engage in a two-front struggle—liberating themselves from the values and worldviews of Ethiopians and Ethiopian colonial institutions and structures. Because of the lack of political consciousness, the oppressed individuals and groups learn the behavior of the oppressor, engage in conflict, and abuse one another. Attaining a critical political consciousness enables the oppressed individuals and groups to regain their identity, reclaim their history and culture, and regain self-respect internally while fighting against the oppressor externally. Those people who are disconnected from their social and cultural bonds are disorganized, disoriented, and alienated; lacking a critical understanding of individual biographies and collective history, they cannot effectively organize and fight against the values and institutions of their oppressors.

If the occupation of land…entailed the occupation of psyches, then the war for liberation had to be waged on two fronts: The colonizer residing not only without, but also within had to be confronted on both fronts. Otherwise, the vicious cycle of domination would continue. To battle the colonizer without first assumes a degree of self-respect and self-validation, a conviction that one is at least as good and as human as he is. It also assumes the existence of a bond with others, a sharing of similar experiences and determination…. The colonized had been reduced to individuals without an anchor in history, alienated from themselves and others. So long as this alienation prevailed, the colonizer without could not be challenged. His abuses, humiliations, and suffocating repression permeated everyday living, further undermining the colonized [person’s] self-respect and collective bonds.[43]

Colonialism attacks the individual psyche and biography, as well as the collective history, of a given people. These damaging processes occur through various forms of violence, including colonial terrorism. “Violence is any relation, process, or condition by which an individual or a group violates the physical, social, and/or psychological integrity of another person or group. From this perspective, violence inhibits human growth, negates inherent potential, limits productive living, and causes death” [Emphasis given in original].[44]Nationalist projects of the oppressed emerge to deal with these complex problems. A few Oromo nationalists who gained political consciousness and self-respect by overcoming the psychological and cultural impacts of Ethiopian colonialism in the 1960s and the 1970s began to engage in Oromo nationalist projects by creating a self-help association, a musical group, and a liberation front, while most Oromo elites were serving their own interests and the interests of their colonial masters.

When some elements of the colonized people develop political consciousness, organize, and engage in the struggle for freedom, they turn their internalized anger, hostility, and violence that destroyed relationships among them against the colonizers. The nascent Oromo nationalists face monumental political problems as the result of the decadent Ethiopian political system. In addition to brutal violence and repression, the oppressor uses various methods of social control. “The oppressed is made a prisoner within a narrow circle of tamed ideas, a wrecked ecology, and a social network strewn with prohibitions. Their family and community life is infiltrated in order to limit his capacity for bonding and trust. His past is obliterated and his history falsified to render him without an origin or a future. A system of reward and punishment based on loyalty to the oppressor is instituted to foster competition and conflict among the oppressed.”[45] The Oromo have been living under political slavery for more than a century; they have been denied the freedom of self-expression, organization, and assembly. The colonialists and their collaborators have committed various crimes against Oromo culture, history, language, and psychology. The founding fathers and mothers of Oromo nationalism understood these complex problems and tried to solve them by developing social, economic, cultural, and political projects.

Human beings have basic attributes that Bulhan characterizes as “essential human needsand essential human powers,” both of which are necessary in order to survive and fully develop.[46] The people who were colonized and dominated cannot adequately satisfy their basic needs and access their self-actualizing powers. These include “(a) biological needs, (b) sociability and rootedness, (c) clarity and integrity of self, (d) longevity and symbolic immortality, (e) self-reproduction in praxis, and (f) maximum self-determination.”[47] Human beings must satisfy their basic biological needs, such as food, sex, clothing, and shelter in order to survive. However, these biological needs can only be satisfied in a culture that provides sociability and rootedness. Those people whose culture has been attacked and disfigured by colonialism are underdeveloped; their basic needs are not satisfactorily met and their self-actualizing powers are stagnated; “For to acquire culture presupposes not only a remarkable power of learning and teaching, but also an enduring capacity for interdependence and inter-subjectivity. Not only the development of our higher power of cognition and affect, but also the development of our basic senses rest on the fact that we are social beings.”[48]

Colonialism can be maintained by committing genocide or ethnocide and/or by organized cultural destruction or mental genocide and the assimilation of a sector of the colonized population. Ethiopian colonialists expropriated Oromo economic resources and destroyed Oromo institutions and cultural experts and leaders; they have also denied the Oromo the opportunity to develop the Oromo system of knowledge by preventing the transmission of Oromo cultural experiences from generation to generation. All these colonial policies were designed to uproot the Oromo cultural identity and to produce individuals who lack self-respect and are submissive and ready to serve the colonialists. Under these conditions, the Oromo basic needs and self-actualizing powers have not been fulfilled. In other words, the Oromo biological and social needs have been frustrated. “If failure to satisfy biological needs leads to disease and physical death,” Bulhan notes, “then denial of human contact, communication, and affirmation … leads to a social and psychological ‘starvation’ or ‘death’ no less devastating than, and conditioning, physical death.”[49]

The Ethiopian colonialists—having caused the physical death of millions—have further attempted to introduce social and cultural death to the Oromo people. Both the Amhara and Tigrayan elites have attempted to destroy or control the Oromo selfhood in order to deny the Oromo both individual and national self-determination. From all angles, the Habasha have tried their best to prevent the Oromo from achieving clarity and integrity of the Oromo self; they have prevented the Oromo from establishing cultural and historical immortality through the reproduction and recreation of their history, culture and worldview, and from achieving maximum self-determination. “The pursuit of self-clarity is … intimately bound with the clarity developed first about one’s body, the body’s boundary and attributes, and later one’s larger world. This pursuit of clarity has survival, developmental, and organizing value. It entails both a differentiation from as well as integration with others and with one’s past. Without some clarity of the self, however tentative and tenuous, there can be no meaningful relating with others, no expression of inherent human potentials, no gratification of essential needs.”[50]

The founding fathers and mothers of Oromo nationalism purposely engaged in political praxis to save the Oromo from psychological, social, cultural, and physical death. Without a measure of self-determination, a person cannot fully satisfy his/her biological and social needs, self-actualize, and engage in praxis as an active agent to transform society and oneself. “Self-determination refers to the process and capacity to choose among alternatives, to determine one’s behavior, and to affect one’s destiny. As such, self-determination assumes a consciousness of human possibilities, an awareness of necessary constraints, and a willed, self-motivated engagement with one’s world.”[51] As individuals and groups, the Oromo must struggle to achieve their personal and national self-determination. The Oromo have the internal power to make their choices from the best possible alternatives and to have control over what they do. The Ethiopian colonialists have assumed almost complete control over the Oromo in an attempt to deny them the right of self-determination, both individually and collectively.

Unfortunately, the oppression is not limited to national borders. Ethiopian colonialists have had psychological impacts on some Oromos in the diaspora, and have infiltrated diaspora communities and their organizations in order to dismantle them. Oromo individuals and groups who do not clearly comprehend the essence of self-determination and who do not struggle for it are doomed to both psychological and cultural death. “History and social conditions present [not only] alternatives but also constraints. We can choose to act or not act. But even when we lack alternatives in the world as we find it, we do possess the capacity to interpret and reinterpret, to adopt one attitude and not another. Without the right of self-determination, we are reduced to rigid and automatic behaviors, to a life and destiny shorn of human will and freedom.”[52] At this historical moment, most of the Oromo in the diaspora are passive; they do not struggle effectively for their individual and national self-determination. This has left their communities vulnerable to infiltration by Oromo collaborators, who then attempt to turn Oromos against one another.

The founding fathers and mothers of Oromo nationalism as a social group reclaimed their individual authentic biographies and Oromo collective history and defined the Oromo national problem; they sought the political solution of national self-determination. In order to continue the policy of social, cultural, psychological, and physical death and control the Oromo society, the Ethiopian colonial state killed or destroyed these leaders. The present Tigrayan-led regime of Ethiopia has continued the same policy. Without psychological liberation and organized, conscious, and collective action, the Oromo people cannot fulfill the objectives of the Oromo national movement. Currently, most Oromo elites and leaders do not realize the problems they are causing for the Oromo national struggle because of their socio-cultural and psychological crises and their failure to critically understand the national crisis. The continuation of these crises and the absence of a united Oromo national leadership allow the continuation of the psychological, social, cultural, and physical death of the Oromo people.

Physical, social, or psychological death is too heavy a price for an accustomed passivity, a corrosive apathy, self-defeating individualism, and predictability of stagnation. Psychological work with the oppressed must give priority to organized and collective activity to regain power and liberty. One critical focus of intervention has to do with unraveling, through active involvement and demonstrations in the social world, the self-defeating patterns of relating, the tendency toward betrayal of the self and/or others, the internalized script for failure and disaster, as well as the conditioned fear of taking a stand or even fear of freedom—all of which derive from a contrived system of socialization, and elaborate formula to produce willing victim. Another crucial focus is the comprehension and refinement of strategies as wells as tactics for regaining power and liberty.[53]

In the capitalist world system, might is right. Those people who cannot empower themselves through liberation knowledge, psychological recovery, and the will to organize and defend themselves in a united movement cannot survive as a people.  We know that one of the major reasons why the colonialists were able to destroy most indigenous peoples in the world was the result of these peoples’ lack of unity and strong organization. It is not enough to know about the impact of colonialism without recognizing and solving the internal crises of the colonized or the oppressed. “A psychology of liberation would give primacy to the empowerment of the oppressed through organized and socialized activity with the aim of restoring individual biographies and a collective history derailed, stunted, and/or made appendage to those of others. Life indeed takes on morbid qualities and sanity becomes tenuous so long as one’s space, time, energy, mobility, and identity are usurped by dint of violence.”[54] The Oromo elites and leaders must realize that the Oromo cannot achieve the liberation objectives without understanding and overcoming the internalized values that they have learned from their oppressors and the inferiority complex that they are suffering from: “To transform a situation of oppression requires at once a relentless confrontation of oppressors without, who are often impervious to appeals, to reasons or compassion, and an equally determined confrontation of the oppressor within, whose violence can unleash a vicious cycle of auto-destruction to the self as well as to the group.”[55]

For instance, vicious cycles of auto-destruction recently arose in the Oromo diaspora communities due to clan and regional politics, as some Oromo groups engaged in the destruction of the OLF from a distance. This was the result of a failure on the part of the Oromo leadership to confront the oppressor within. Without using the tool of liberation knowledge to build political consciousness and restore their usurped biographies and history, the Oromo cannot confront and defeat the oppressor within. The Oromo national movement is still suffering from the oppressor within and the lack of effective leadership. Since the Oromo masses are not organized and educated in the politics and psychology of liberation, they have been passive participants in the Oromo national movement. They have been waiting to receive their liberation as a gift from Oromo political organizations. This is a serious mistake. Oromo liberation can only be achieved by the active participation of an effective portion of the Oromo people. As Gilly Adolfo states, “Liberation does not come as a gift from anybody; it is seized by the masses with their own hands. And by seizing it they themselves are transformed; confidence in their own strength soars, and they turn their energy and their experience to the tasks of building, governing, and deciding their own lives for themselves.”[56] Developing Oromummaa or Oromo nationalism among the Oromo elites and masses is required to increase Oromo self-discovery and self-acceptance through liberation education. Without overcoming the political ignorance and inferiority complex among all sectors of the Oromo people, the Oromo national movement continues to face multi-faceted problems. The Oromo can challenge and overcome multiple levels of domination and dehumanization through multiple approaches and actions. As Patricia Hill Collins puts, “People experience and resist oppression on three levels: the level of personal biography; the group or community level of the cultural context…and the systematic level of social institutions.”[57] Developing individual political consciousness through liberation knowledge generates social change. This is essential to the creation of a sphere of freedom by increasing the power of self-definition, which is absolutely necessary for the liberation of the mind. Without the liberated and free mind, we cannot resist oppression on multiple levels.

The dominant groups are against mental liberation, and they use institutions such as schools, churches or mosques, the media, and other formal organizations to inculcate their oppressive worldviews in our minds. According to Collins, “Domination operates by seducing, pressuring, or forcing … members of subordinated groups to replace individual and cultural ways of knowing with the dominant group’s specialized thought. As a result … ‘the true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situation which we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us.’ Or…‘revolutionary begins with the self, in the self.’”[58] Every Oromo must be educated and acquire liberation knowledge to fight for his/her individual freedom and empowerment. Without the liberation and empowerment of the individual, we cannot overcome the docility and passivity of our people and empower them to revolt and liberate themselves. “Empowerment involves rejecting the dimensions of knowledge, whether personal, cultural, or institutional, that perpetuate objectification and dehumanization … individuals in subordinate groups become empowered when we understand and use those dimensions of our individual, group, and disciplinary ways of knowing that foster our humanity as fully human subjects.”[59] As Oromos, we have been objectified and made raw materials for others who have state power. How much longer will we tolerate such deplorable conditions?

Discussion and Conclusion

The only way the Amhara-Tigrayan state elites continue their colonial domination and exploitation of our people is by controlling our mental power and preventing our mental liberation. They have continued to disrupt our consciousness-building process through different mechanisms, particularly by infiltrating our communities and organizations and dividing and turning us against one another. These colonial elites have imprisoned and tortured or killed our self-conscious individuals and bribed and promoted those Oromos who are not politically conscious or those opportunists who cannot see beyond their individual self-interests. According to Akbar, “Human beings have consistently worked to create the circumstances to maximize their consciousness and to insure that each subsequent generation will know fully who and what they are. On the other hand, whenever human beings chose to oppress or capture other human beings, they also did all that they could do to undermine any expansion of consciousness by the oppressed…. They understand that ultimately the control of the people was in the control their thinking, in control of their minds, in control of their consciousness.”[60]

By preventing the restoration of the Oromo heritage, culture, history, and institutions, the colonialists have limited the expansion of Oromo consciousness and self-knowledge. These colonialists have also continued to disseminate lies or distorted information to the Oromo people and others using the media, education, and religion, leading to their continued acceptance of the worldviews of their oppressor.  Every Oromo must know and understand Oromo history, culture, heritage, worldview, and religion from antiquity to the present time in order to build his/her national consciousness and self-knowledge. We also need to learn about all of our heroes and heroines and Oromo accomplishments throughout history. People who do not know their culture and history are mentally dead, and any group that has military power and knowledge can easily impose its worldview on those who do not.

We must teach our people and children the correct information about their conditions. Explaining the conditions of African Americans, Akbar notes, “It is through self-celebration that we heal our damaged self-esteem. Yes, feeling good about oneself is a legitimate activity of cultures. In fact, any culture, which does not make its adherents feel good about them, is a failure as a culture. It is through the energy of self-worth that humans are motivated to improve and perpetuate themselves.”[61] The process of mental liberation requires courage, hard work, discipline, and commitment; it involves individual, family and community. “Since the new consciousness can take a lifetime to begin to show tangible results,” Akbar writes, “it takes a great deal of courage to persist in breaking the chains of the old consciousness and developing a new consciousness.”[62]

Those of us who are a part of the diaspora beyond Ethiopian political slavery must not waste our time and energy on trivial and unproductive issues; we must build our brains and communities to overcome the lonely and ill-equipped road to freedom. We do not need to wait for activists or politicians to engage us in mental liberation and community building since they are not any better than we are. Every Oromo nationalist has a moral and national obligation to promote and engage in consciousness-building projects. Colonialists use community divisions to keep mental shackles on their subjects, even in the diaspora. They use divide-and-conquer strategies, replete with tricks and deceit, in order to destroy Oromo community life. This is one of the reasons why many Oromo communities in the diaspora face substantial problems and are overwhelmed by perpetual conflicts.

Most Oromos—despite the fact that they brag about it—forget their gadaa/siqqee tradition, which was based on democracy, solidarity, and collectivity. We must realize that there is strength in democracy, solidarity, and unity, and there is weakness in loneliness and fragmentation. “As we gain greater knowledge and information, many of those divisions will disappear because they cannot stand under the light of Truth and correct information.”[63]In the capitalist world system, the less informed are the less organized. The less organized are the ones who are physically and mentally controlled by those who are organized. In forming solidarity and building our communities, we do not need to agree on everything; our unity must be built on our common denominator. As Akbar states, “In the process of liberation, it is important to recognize that unity does not require uniformity. We can stand together and preserve our separate qualities which serve to enhance further the objectives of freeing ourselves and all of our people.”[64]

We need to have faith in ourselves, both individually and collectively. We have many talented individuals in many areas, which can play central roles in the process of mental liberation and consciousness- and community-building. “We must work to re-educate ourselves and our young people by seeking and studying new information. We must find every opportunity to celebrate ourselves and we must challenge the fear that causes us to hesitate in taking the chains out of our minds. We must work together and we must have faith that our struggle will be successful, regardless of the opposition.”[65] We must also stand with our heroes and heroines who have broken the Ethiopian physical and psychological prison house by shedding their blood and sacrificing their precious lives to send us around the world as Oromo diplomats to contribute toward the liberation of the politically enslaved, psychologically chained, and economically impoverished Oromos.

At this historical moment, we the Oromo in the Diaspora should overcome our passivity, political ignorance, individualism, naiveté, anarchism, fatalism, perceived inferiority, and community divisions by actively engaging in our psychological and mental liberation. How can we accomplish all these urgent tasks? We must attack the internalization of oppression and victimization by rejecting the worldview of our oppressors through un-brainwashing our entire people. This can be made possible by promoting quality informal and formal education through establishing alternative schools, study circles, cultural centers, and related institutions for engaging in small group workshops, discussion groups, seminars, lectures, etc. These kinds of engagements help us in overcoming our weaknesses and in fighting the basis of our powerlessness through participating in political actions that can be demonstrated every day. This array of activities can facilitate the further mobilization of our material, cultural, and intellectual resources to further develop Oromo communities. Once our communities are internally built and consolidated, it will be possible to disempower the agents of our oppressors who stand among us.

If we continue to allow these agents to divide and demobilize us, we will remain a weak society that always serves the interests of others. On the contrary, if we build strong communities, we can easily build alliances with progressive individuals and communities based on our political and social objectives. This is an important step forward for securing recognition for our nation and national movement from the international community. Furthermore, our political activism and actions must be expanded. We, the Oromo in the diaspora, must immediately take the following concrete steps to contribute to the survival and liberation of our people:

First, we must initiate town hall meetings in every town where an Oromo community lives and discuss the fate of the Oromo people, focusing on their achievements, failures, challenges, opportunities, and constraints as a nation. This is not openly possible in Oromia because the Oromo people are denied the freedom of self-expression, organization, and the media.

Second, the Oromo in the diaspora must stop the politics of self-destruction by refusing to engage in inter-clan, inter-religious, and inter-regional politics, and by isolating the Oromo mercenaries from every Oromo community. Since the Oromo mercenaries use clan, religious, and regional politics to divide the Oromo people and turn them against one another, the Oromo community must reject them and their politics. The Oromo community must disempower them by maintaining a sense of the unity of the Oromo community across clan, religious and regional identities in the face of their self-destructive ideologies. The Oromo must achieve a sense of Oromummaa at the deepest level[66] so that they are not distracted from the task of achieving psychological and physical liberation.

Third, the Oromo Diaspora must challenge the Oromo activists, who have built their separate organizations, to break down barriers among different Oromo organizations and unite them—around a common denominator under one structured organization and leadership.

Fourth, Oromo youth and women should be encouraged to actively participate in national dialogues and town hall meetings. They must play a leading role, since they are less corrupted by the ideologies of egoism, clan, religious and regional politics.

Fifth, Oromo nationalists must establish a rule of law based on the principles ofgadaa/siqqee and other democratic traditions and use them in the administration of their community and national affairs.

Sixth, since unconscious people cannot liberate themselves from the internalization of the inferiority complex, victimization, and colonial domination, the Oromo diaspora should cultivate liberation knowledge through regular dialogues, seminars, conferences, workshops, lectures, and study circles. We must learn about our history, culture, language, and traditions from antiquity to the present, and about the world around us. At this historical moment, the number one enemy of our people is political ignorance; Oromo nationalists must smash this enemy. By building our political consciousness and organizing ourselves, we are going to play a historic role commensurate with our number. When our sleeping giant nation is awakened, others cannot use us as raw material. One of the main reasons why the forty million Oromos are terrorized and ruled by the elites that emerged from about four million Tigrayans is the low level of our political consciousness. A low level of political consciousness results in passivism and fatalism.

Seventh, every self-respecting Oromo must realize that he or she has the power to determine the destiny of Oromia. Every Oromo must be educated about his or her potential power and what he or she must do to translate it to real power.

Eighth, the Oromo diaspora movement must start building from bottom-up a confederation of Oromo political, religious, community, and self-help organizations to create a Global Gumii Oromiyaa that will contribute ideological, organizational, and financial resources for consolidating the Oromo struggle, the Oromo Liberation Army, and self-defense militias in Oromia. The Global Gumii Oromiyaa will play a fundamental preparatory role in creating and building an Oromiyaa state fashioned after our gadaa/siqqee system. This state will be a key element of a democratic, federated multinational state in the Horn of Africa. In order to do this, the Oromo national movement needs to retrieve, refine, adapt, and practice the principles of our gadaa/siqqe system.

The idea of creating and building a national Gumii Oromiyaa must be given top priority by all progressive and revolutionary Oromos in order to revitalize, centralize, and coordinate the Oromo national movement. All nationalist Oromos should be encouraged and invited to participate in a united Oromo national movement and to own their movement. All Oromo activists and nationalist leaders should begin to search for ways of enabling Oromos to participate in the united Oromo national movement by providing ideas, resources, expertise, and labor. Although the fire of Oromo nationalism was lit by a few determined revolutionary elements, the Oromo national struggle has reached a level where mass mobilization and participation is required. In this mobilization, the united Oromo national movement should use the ideology and principles of democracy which must be enshrined in Oromummaa in order to mobilize the entire nation spiritually, financially, intellectually, ideologically, militarily, and organizationally to take a centralized and coordinated political and military action.

Ninth, most members of the Oromo diaspora must engage in public diplomacy by introducing the Oromo and their plight to the international community. In order to successfully do this, every Oromo in the diaspora must adequately learn about Oromo history, culture, and civilization and be able to teach others by refuting the lies and propaganda of the colonialists and their supporters.

Tenth, Oromo nationalists in the diaspora must start to build a well-regulated system that can provide support and security for individual Oromos who are determined to advance the Oromo national interest whenever they face hardship beyond their control.

Finally, the Oromo must believe that they will liberate themselves. There is no doubt that, despite hardships and sacrifices, the Oromo “social volcano” that is fermenting will soon burn down the Ethiopian colonial structures that perpetuate terrorism, genocide, disease, absolute poverty, and malnutrition in Oromia and beyond. The Oromo people and their leaders must intensify their commitment, hard work, and determination, and be ready to make the necessary sacrifices to restore Oromo democracy and to achieve national self-determination, sovereignty, statehood, and multinational democracy.

*(L) Dr. Asafa Jalata, Professor of Sociology and Global and Africana Studies, University of Tennessee, Department of Sociology, Knoxville, Tennessee USA; (R) Dr. Harwood Schaffer, Research Assistant Professor, University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, Knoxville, Tennessee USA


[1] Paper Presented at the Oromo Community Meeting of the United Kingdom, May 19, 2012.
[2] For further understanding of transnational capitalism and its impacts, see William I. Robinson, A Theory of Global Capitalism: Production, Class, and State in a Transnational World, (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2004); William I. Robinson, Latin America and Global Capitalism: A Critical Globalization Perspective,(Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2008).
[3] See Asafa Jalata, Contending Nationalisms of Oromia an Ethiopia, (Binghamton, NY: Global Academic Publishing of Binghamton University, 2010); Asafa Jalata, “The Tigrayan-Led Ethiopian State, Repression, Terrorism and Gross Human Rights Violations in Oromia and Ethiopia,” Horn of Africa, vol. xxviii, 2010, pp. 47-82.
[4] For example, see Asafa Jalata, Oromia & Ethiopia, (Trenton, NJ: The Re Red Sea Press, 2005); Bonnie Holcomb and Sisai Ibssa, The Invention of Ethiopia, (Trenton: NJ: The Red Sea Press, 1990).
[5] The liberation of the Oromo is inextricably intertwined with the liberation of all of the peoples under the rule of the rule of the TPLF-led government. For a discussion of the relationship of Oromummaa to liberation of all oppressed nationalities in the Ethiopian Empire see Asafa Jalata, “Theorizing Oromummaa,” Journal of Oromo Studies 22 (1), 2015: 1-35.
[6] For further understanding, see Asafa Jalata and Harwood Schaffer,  “The Oromo,Gadaa/Siqqee and the Liberation of Ethiopian Colonial Subjects,” with Harwood Schaffer,AlterNative: An International Journal of  Indigenous Peoples, Vol. 9, Issue 4: 2013, 277-295.
[7] Lemmu Baissa, “The Oromo Gada System of Government: An Indigenous African Democracy,” Ed. Asafa Jalata, State Crises, Globalisation and National Movements in Northeast Africa, (New York: Routledge, 2004), p. 101.
[8] Tsega Etefa, “Pan-Oromo Confederations in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries,”The Journal of Oromo Studies 15 (1), 2008: 19-40; Tsega Etefa, “A Great African Nation: The Oromo in European Accounts,” The Journal of Oromo Studies, 17(1), 2010: 87-110.
[9] Virginia Luling, “Government and Social Control Among Some Peoples of the Horn of Africa,” (MA. Thesis, the University o London); Asmarom Legesse, Gadaa: Three Approaches to the Study of African Society, (New York: The Free Press, 1973).
[10] Virginia Luling, ibid. 191.
[11] See, Asmarom Legesse, Gada: Three Approaches to the Study of Africa Society,(New York: Free Press, 19730.
[12] Bonnie K. Holcomb, “Akka Gadaatti: The Unfolding of Oromo Nationalism-Keynote Remarks,” Proceedings of the 1991 Conference on Oromia, (University of Toronto, Canada, 3-4 August, pp. 1-10.
[13] Asmarom Legesse, ibid.
[14] Lemmu Baissa, The Democratic Political System of the Galla [Oromo] of Ethiopia and the Possibility of its use in Nation-Building, MA Thesis, George Washington University, 1971); Lemmu Baissa, “The Political Culture of Gada: Building Blocks of Oromo Power,)Paper Presented at the Oromo Studies Association Conference, (University of Toronto, Canada, 31 July- 1, August 1993).
[15] Dinsa Lepisa, “The Gada System of Government and Sera Cafee Oromo,” (LLB Thesis, Addis Ababa University, 1975); Sisai Ibssa, “Implications of Party and Set for Oromo Political Survival,” Paper Prsented at the 35th Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association, (Seattle, Washington, Nov. 20-23, 1992).
[16] For further discussion, see Asafa Jalata, Contending Nationalisms of Oromia and Ethiopia; and Asafa Jalata, Oromia and Ethiopia.
[17] For further discussion, see Asafa Jalata, Oromia and Ethiopia.
[18] For detailed discussion, see Asafa Jalata, Contending Nationalisms of Oromia and Ethiopia.
[19] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, translated by Constance Farrington, (New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1963[1961]), p. 38.
[20]Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan, Frantz Fanon and the Psychology of Oppression,      (New York: Plenum Press, 1985), p. 123.
[21] Na’im Akbar, Breaking the Chains of Psychological Slavery, (Tallahassee, FL: Mind Productions and Associates, 1996), p. 41.
[23]Fanon, Frantz, A Dying Colonialism, translated by Haakon Chevalier, (New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1967[1965]), p. 65.
[24]Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, translated by Richard Philcox, (New York: Grove Press, Inc., 2008[1952]), pp. 2-3.
[25] Hussein Abdilahi Bulihan, ibid. pp. 125-126.
[26] Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, p. 7.
[27] Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, (Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press,), pp. 248-249.
[28] Walter Rodney, ibid. p. 241.
[29] Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-education of the Negro, (Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, Inc., 1990 [1933], pp. xiii, 2.
[30] Ibid.
[31] Walter Rodney, Ibid. p. 42.
[32] Carter G. Woodson explains similar conditions in the African American society, ibid.
[33] Ibid.
[34] Ibid. p. 127.
[35] Ibid. p. 62.
[36] For detailed discussion, see Asafa Jalata, Fighting against the Injustice of the State and Globalization: Comparing the African American and Oromo Movements, (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2012[2001].
[37] Begna F. Dugassa, “Colonialism of Mind: Deterrent of Social Transformation,”Sociology Mind, 1(2): 55-64.
[38] Na’im Akbar, Breaking the Chains of Psychological Slavery, (Tallahassee, FL: Mind Productions and Associates, 1996), pp. v-iv.
[39] Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan, Frantz Fanon and the Psychology of Oppression, p. 55.
[40] Ibid. p. 56.
[41] Ibid. p. 123.
[42] Carter G. Woodson, ibid., p. 96.

[43] Ibid. p. 139.
[44] Ibid. p. 135.
[45] Ibid. p. 123.
[46] Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan, Frantz Fanon and the Psychology of Oppression, p. 262.
[47] Ibid.
[48] Ibid. p. 263.
[49] Ibid.
[50] Ibid. p. 264.
[51] Ibid. p. 265.
[52] Ibid. pp. 265-266.
[53] Ibid. p. 276.
[54] Ibid. p. 277.
[55] Ibid. pp. 277-278.
[56] Gilly Adolfo. [1965] 1967. “Introduction,” A Dying Colonialism, ibid. p. 2.
[57] Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought, (New York: Routledge, 1990), p. 227.
[58] Patricia Hill Collins, ibid., p. 229.
[59] Ibid., p. 230.
[60] Na’im Akbar, Breaking the Chains of Psychological Slavery, p. 30.
[61] Ibid. p. 39.
[62] Ibid. p. 41.
[63] Ibid. p. 42.
[64] Ibid. p. 43.
[65] Ibid. p. 46.
[66] Jalata, Asafa, “Theorizing Oromummaa,” Journal of Oromo Studies, 22 (1), 2015, pp. 1-35.




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Odaa Oromoo

International Oromo Lawyers Association (IOLA)  logoInternational Oromo Lawyers  Association  Mid Year Conference at LSE, 1st  April 2016OSA Mid Year Conference at LSE, 2nd and 3rd April 2013


IOLA Mid-Year Conference London, 1 April, 2016

Theme: The State of Rule of law, Human Rights and Democracy in Ethiopia


Continuous efforts have been made to create a modern state and the legal basis that underpins its formation in Ethiopia for about one century. The adoption of the 1930 constitution and the 1955 revised constitution which is followed by series of law making attempts that produced half a dozen of codified laws over a space of 10 years in the mid twentieth century. The 1991 Transitional Charter and more importantly, the 1995 constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia could be taken as one of the most radical marking point and complete departure from the past in the legal and political history of Ethiopia. This new constitution brought about a new state formation and instituted the formation of nine Regional States with their respective state structures. Politicians and the academia fiercely debate on the legal and political implication of the rights of the nations and nationalities enshrined in this constitution.

IOLA seeks to reflect on the underlying reasons that necessitated the adoption of major legal documents that constitute today’s Ethiopia and to discuss the level of success of such legislative attempts. It would like to take the opportunity to reflect on the legacies of past and present constitutive moments.


Possible topics include, but not limited to:
– The power relationship between the Centre (Federal) and its constituting Regional Sates under the 1995 FDRE Constitution: theory and practice;
– The position of Oromia Regional State regarding the capital city (Addis Ababa or Finfinnee);
– Electoral politics in Ethiopia: the role of the opposition and civil society;
– Federalism as a solution for Self-determination of people/nations;
– The current state of law enforcement and justice systems in Ethiopia: comparative analysis to the rule of law and universal human rights norms;
– Freedom of the press and the media landscape in contemporary Ethiopia.


OSA’s Midyear Conference to stay in Europe | London will host the conference on April 2 & 3, 2016

The Oromo Studies Association’s (OSA’s) 2016 Midyear conference will take place at the London School of Economics (LSE) in London on April 2 and 3. The theme of the Conference will be “The Oromo in the Global Political Economy.” For the latest update,



APRIL 2-3, 2016

THEME: The Oromo in the Global Political Economy

The Oromo Studies Association invites paper abstracts and panel proposals for its 2016 midyear conference to be held at the London School of Economics (LSE) in collaboration with the LSE Africa Initiative.

The conference provides a platform for examining major changes, challenges and opportunities that impact the Oromo via the global political economy. The theme sets a broader context in which to examine the power dynamics and major actors and beneficiaries of global political economy in Ethiopia. We are also interested to examine how these dynamics and actors inform the questions of economic and political justice, history, law, leadership, and environmental challenges. Global trade, finance, and geopolitical interests over the last few decades seem to have shaped both inter-state relations and regional political economy. From the Oromo perspective, these subjects are critical to the process of mapping knowledge across multiple disciplines with a view to seeking direct global alliances and partnerships.

The event presents an opportunity to explore unique and exciting themes that will broaden understanding of the Oromo nation through research and dissemination of findings globally. With such a diverse range of interest focusing on the Oromo in global political economy, the famous London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) presents an excellent ideal academic environment for OSA’s midyear conference.

Themes of the conference include:

– The place of the Oromo in the geopolitics of the Horn;
– Federalism; Oromo land and property security: natural resource ownership;
– Economic justice, state/party-capitalism and conglomerates in Ethiopia;
– The ‘developmental state, constitution and constitutionalism
– China-Africa Trade Policy and Implication for the Oromo
– Global events/turning points in modern history & the Oromo, 1935/36, 1974, 1991)
– Imperial Ethiopia, local alliances and global connections;
– Finfinnee, Oromo hinterlands and the fate of Oromo national identity;
– Climate change and its impact on ecological health, sustainable development, renewable energy in Oromia;
– Historical wrongs and the pursuit of justice and reconciliation;
– Regional networks, alliances & political projects: the Oromo & the rest of the South
– Ethiopia’s counter-archives: narrative, memory, history
– The identity/alterity nexus in the Oromo-Ethiopia dualism
– The politics of othering and the othering of politics
– The next chapter in the political economy of Oromia and Ethiopia


The Oromo Concept of Reality or Dhugaa-Ganama October 28, 2015

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The Oromo Concept of Reality or Dhugaa-Ganama (Part 1)

By Yoseph Mulugeta Baba (Ph.D.)*

Part I

The first condition necessary in order to understand about “the” Dhugaa-Ganama (i.e. “the” Absolute Truth) is to refer to the Oromo concept of jireenya, that is, existence or the fact that things exist. (Note that the Afaan Oromo terms, le’ii and leetoo, are roughly equivalent tojireenya both in meaning and content). In the Oromo system of knowledge, theunderstanding and interpretation of the world, of oneself, and other people essentially take as their starting point the concept of jireenya — existence — with reference to jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama — ontological characteristic of human being. As such, the Oromo concept ofReality can best be subsumed under three broad concepts (a) Uumaa (Cosmology); (b)Waaqa (Undifferentiated-Being); and (c) Saffu (Human Ontology).

(A) The Concept of Uumaa — Cosmology

Uumaa is the totality of the created universe. The very term Uumaa, which derives from the verb uumuu, literally meaning “to create”, refers to all that is created — non-living things, living entities, and spiritual beings. Yet, the Oromo notion of Uumaa is not something static, but a continuous process. In order to understand, one needs first to grasp the way the concept of Waaqa has an inextricable link to the dynamic notion of Uumaa.

(B) The Concept of Waaqa — Undifferentiated-Being

The Oromo concept of Waaqa is crystal clear: The first Being was Waaqa. It must be noted that the very term Waaqa, with a capital W, should not be mistaken for waaqa, with a small w. As opposed to the former, which is under discussion, the latter simply means sky or heaven. Unlike Waaqa, waaqa is necessarily synonymous with samii, that is, heaven. (Bartles, 1990, pp. 89-111; Knutson, 1967, pp. 47-48; Geleta Koro, 2008, pp. 407, 449, 925) He continues to exist and is absolute, eternal, and infinite. Waaqa is the sustaining power of all that is. However, although Waaqa is often conceived of as the absolute unity, He is also many. (Bartles, 1990, p. 114) This is due to the notion of Ayyaanaa — the immaterial principle which determines the essence of all individual entities. In Oromo philosophical thought, everything emanates from Waaqa in the form of Ayyaanaa. Ayyaanaa can loosely be defined as an immaterial principle that underliesUumaa and determines the essence of all individual entities as well as their common properties. As G. Dahl argues, as immaterial principle,Ayyaanaa “is decisive for the character and fate of … [every]entity.” (Dahl, 1996, p. 167) Therefore, Bartle’s critical observation is correct in that “Mountains and trees, days, months and seasons, every man and his lineage –all have their own ayana. These ayana rule our lives; they make us what we are – ayana are conceived of as beings.” (Bartles, 1990, p. 113) Joseph van de Loo also affirms this depiction when he defines Ayyaanaa as the “invisible part of being, the spirit.” (Joseph van de, 1991, p. 141).

The main implication of these contentions is that everything that exists, whether as material entity or as abstract value, has its ownAyyaanaa. Accordingly, in the Oromo concept of Reality, it would be absurd to make a complete distinction between a thing and its character. Every existent being, whether actual or abstract, cannot be conceptualized without Ayyaanaa. Whatever exists has this property called Ayyaanaa. Ayyaanaa is inherent in every created individual entity. All created things are distinguished from each other by means ofAyyaanaa. From what Dahl points out it is thus justifiable that:

The traditional [sic] cosmology of the Oromo is built around a “quasi-platonic” division between the real world and the world of ideas or principles. Everything that exists in the material world as well as in the form of abstract values, has its correspondence in the form of an immaterial principle (ayaana) which is decisive for the character and fate of that entity. (Dahl, 1996, p. 167)

Yet, the philosophical question is: How can one explain the problem of one-many or the question of change-permanence, especially as this relates to the philosophical question of existence-freedom, if Ayyaanaa is conceived of as some-thing that determines the essence of every individual entity? To properly answer this question, we need to have a clear understanding of the Oromo concepts of Waaqa andSaffu, respectively.

Waaqa is the ultimate source of all that is. It is essential to note, as Bartles suggests, that the very term Waaqa would better be rendered as Divinity rather than what is meant by the English word ‘Supreme Being,’ ‘God,’ or ‘Creator.’ The main reason, he argues:

It comprises more, since it includes countless particular manifestations of Waqa in this world, particularizations of his creative work which are conceived as beings. Hence the word ‘divinity’ will often be a better translation than ‘God’. “Divinity … can be used to convey to the mind at once a being, a kind of nature or existence, and a quality of that kind of being; it can be made to appear more substantive or qualitative, more personal or general, in connotation, according to the context … (Bartles, 1990, p. 89)

In a similar vein, Knutsson himself points out the epistemological difficulty inherent in the Oromo concept of Waaqa. “It is inadvisable to translate waka by the word God, which in most western theological traditions connotes ideas of unity and independence.” (Knutsson, 1967, p. 49) Thus, he also suggests the use of the term Divinity instead of God.

Without demeaning Bartles and Knutsson’s respected contentions, however, I would like to offer a philosophical explanation of the reason why the term Undifferentiated-Being conveys a better translation than the term Divinity. First, what must be borne in mind is that the way the very term Waaqa itself is often qualified by the adjective guraacha, literally meaning “black”. In the Oromo view, the term “black” adds the notion of originality. It shows the unknown origin of Waaqa. As Dahl affirms, Waaqa “is black, gura’acha, an expression that essentially summarizes the notions of uninterferedness, originality and lack of distinction. ‘Everything flows out of this undifferentiated state in the form of ayaana.’” (Dhal, 1996, p. 169) Therefore, unlike other thinkers, I am forced to render the word Waaqa as Undifferentiated-Being instead of Divinity. (In the works of Knutsson, Bartles, and Dahl, there is a tendency to render the term Waaqa as Divinity. This is due to the influence of G. Lienhardt’s work, Divinity and Experience, on the Dinka religion and in which Lienhardt “met with similar difficulties in translation” for the word nihalic. For more detail, see Bartles, 1990, p. 89; Knutson, 1967, pp. 47-53; Dahl, 1996, p. 170)

Second, it would be absurd to separate the notion of Ayyaanaa from the concept of Undifferentiated-Being. This is mainly due to the Oromo’s concept of creation. As Dahl argues, the Oromo view of “cosmology, ecology and human ontology is one of the flow of life emanating from Divinity [i.e. Undifferentiated-Being].” (Dahl, 1996, p. 167) This contention has one important implication: The Dynamicaspect of Oromo’s view of creation. As I have stated above, the Oromo notion of creation is that it is not static, but a continuous process. “It would be wrong to regard creation as something which for Oromo was a matter of once and for all. With their conception of time, the act of creation (umaa) is still there: it continues as characteristic of the agent of creation.” (Dahl, 1996, p. 167)

Accordingly, the Undifferentiated-Being is not only the Uumaa’s ratio d’être, but also that ofAyyaanaa’s; despite the fact that the character and fate of everything is determined by the latter ― Ayyaanaa. Therefore, it would be wrong to mistake the reality conceived of the author is calling the Undifferentiated-Being for Ayyaanaa, although the two concepts are not mutually exclusive. It must be remembered that the latter is always conceived of as some-thing of the former. As Bartles points out, Ayyaanaa is Undifferentiated-Being, but it cannot be said that the reverse is true. He argues:

The crucial difference is that Waqa is invoked by everyone universally since he is concerned with all, while an ayana, linked as it is to a particular person, animal or plant, is only invoked and feared by those who linked to it either by nature or free choice. It is ‘something of Waqa’ in a person, an animal or plant making them the way they are: a particular manifestation of the divine, of Waqa as creator and as source of all life.We see the ayana as flowing out of Waqa in a way, filling the whole of creation, filling every creature whose ayana they are, making them the way they are, both inside and outside. But the ayana remain invisible to human eyes. What is visible in man is not his ayana. This visible aspect of man is rather formed and conditioned by his ayana: his ayana manifests itself in it. (Bartles, 1990, pp. 115, 118-19; Also see Sumner, 1995, p. 33)

In a similar vein, Knutson argues that “waka is the most comprehensive … It Includes ayana.” (Knutson, 1967, p. 48)

One important thing must be noted from the above contentions. Ayyaanaa, unlike Uumaa, is not necessarily subject to the idea oftemporality. Rather, it may also characterized by non-spatio-temporal reality by virtue of having the character of Undifferentiated-Being. Therefore, in contradistinction to Uumaa, Ayyaanaa exists before and after the thing it causes comes into being. Everything that exists is thus exclusively attributed to Ayyaanaa, whose act of creation has its ultimate source in Undifferentiated-Being. Hence, the Oromo conception of Reality implies a world-process or dynamic universe that has come to be by virtue of Ayyaanaa. In this manner, Ayyaanaaencompasses Uumaa, just as Uumaa embraces Ayyaanaa.

However, the incommensurability of the concepts of Uumaa versus Ayyaanaa poses the philosophical question of existence-freedom to human reason. As a result of this philosophical problem, the Oromo have adopted and developed the concept of Saffu — Human Ontology.

(C) The Concept of Saffu — Human Ontology

As Gemetchu M. argues the:

Oral tradition [sic] offered each generation words that became the vehicle of their hopes and aspirations. Each generation found its own meaning in the words in relation to its particular historical situation. This relationship between the terms of the tradition and the particular meaning of these terms in specific circumstances gives the Oromo tradition its historical character. As the result of this historical character of the tradition, early in Oromo tradition, there developed a tension between Uumaa (literally “creation”) and ayyaana as the will of Waaqa [or Undifferentiated-Being]. It is perhaps this contradiction that gave rise to the concept ofSaffu (mutual relationship between elements of the social and cosmic orders) which maintains practice obligatory through ethical conduct. (Gemetchu, 1996, p. 97)

Of this mutual relationship, Bartles has it that Saffu is “the mutual relationship (rights and duties) between individual creatures or groups of creatures according to their place in the cosmic and social order on the basis of ayana.” (Bartles, 1990, p. 373) It “is about mutual relation amongst things. Every creature should live in harmony, without inflicting harm on each other.” (Dirribi Demisse Bokku, 2011, p. 80) It must be remembered that the whole concept of Saffu derives from there being a need for such a philosophical explanation of human “existence.”

As I have stated at the beginning of this article, in the Oromo system of knowledge, the understanding and interpretation of the world, of oneself, and of the other people takes as its starting point a thought concerning jireenya — existence. This conceptual starting point constitutes the principal point of difference between my thinking and that of who have written on Oromo ideas and way of thinking individuals who tend to identify the concept of Saffu with moral philosophy alone rather than exploring its epistemological significance. To begin with, in the Oromo system of knowledge, the concept of Reality per se stems from a distinct view of jireenya. The main implication is that for the Oromo people, their concept of jireenya serves as a useful starting point for the understanding and interpretation of Uumaa, Waaqa, and Saffu. The philosophical thought Oromo have in this regard is a rich source of ideas that can provide an epistemological justification for the Oromo concept of Reality as a whole. The noun jireenya derives from the root jir — to be, to exist. (Knutsson, 1967, p. 59) Here, it is important to stress that the whole concept of jireenya implies everything that exists. In Oromo philosophy, the idea of jireenyais inclusive of everything there is within the cosmos.

However, one important distinction concerning this idea must be stated right away. The term jireenya refers to the existence of every individual entity. But when it is used for human “existence”, it has quite a different connotation. The English terms, human and man, are typically rendered as nama in the language of Afaan Oromo. In Oromo philosophy, however, there is no such thing as jireenya-nama, but rather we find jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama. The point is that whenever the concept of jireenya is used with reference to nama or the human being, it must be preceded by a noun jiruu — “activity” and a conjunction fi ― and. This name in terms of philosophical thought, has two main implications: First, in Oromo philosophical thought, it would be absurd to totally identify human “existence” with that of the existence of other entities. The very assertion, jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama, makes the concept crystal clear that human beings have a character that is in contradistinction to the existence of, for instance, saree — dog, muka — tree, dhakaa — stone, or minjaala — table. As such, there is nothing like jiruu-fi-jireenya-saree, so to compare human existence with that of a dog, for example, would be self-contradiction. On the contrary, phrases like jireenya-saree — the life/existence of dog or jireenya-muka — the life/existence of tree in accord with human reason, suggest some degrees of communality among all other entities in contradistinction to human “existence”.

Second, the difference between man’s “existence” and that of other entities stems from the element of human “activity” — jiruu. In Oromo philosophy, despite the fact that man exists the way other things do, his very existence, however, differs by virtue of his or her jiruu — “activity”. Human “existence” must be characterized by this very jiruu — “activity”. Essentially, the very conjunction fi ― which is necessarily used alongside the noun jiruu — “activity” suggests that human “existence”, unlike other things, is intrinsically linked with such “activity”.

Accordingly, in the indigenous Oromo system of knowledge, Saffu is used as the generic name for such various “activities” of individual wo/man. As we have stated above, the incompatibility that stems from the view of Uumaa versus Ayyaanaa has resulted in the construction of the concept of Saffu. Stated otherwise, the need for the construction of the concept of Saffu is due to paradoxes of bothmetaphysical and epistemological, that have resulted from existence of the concepts of Uumaa and Ayyaanaa. On the one hand, the Oromo view of Undifferentiated-Being is a representation of an ideal world or the universe of thought. This thought has its roots in thephilosophical question concerning the beginning of the universe. As a response to this fundamental question, Waaqa is often conceived of as the ultimate source of all that is; and consequently as the universe of thought. However, the Oromo do not take a precise categoricalphilosophical position on whether Waaqa produces the world out of nothing or out of His own substance. Thanks to the concept of Saffu, which I shall explicate further, the radical philosophical position just discussed has been overlooked due to there being an epistemological difficulty in coming to a human understanding of the true nature of Undifferentiated-Being.

(to be continued)

Note: The responsibility for the article is entirely mine.




– Baxter, P. T. W., Hultin, J., and Triulzi, A. eds. Being and Becoming Oromo: Historical and Anthropological Enquires. Asmara: The Red Sea Press, Inc., 1996.

– Dirribi D. B. Oromo Wisdom In Black Civilization. Finfinnee: Finfinne Printing and Publishing S. C., 2011.

– Geleta K. Hirkoo: English-Afan Oromo-Amharic Dictionary. Aster Nega Publishing Enterprise, 2008.

– Knutson, K. E. Authority and Change: A Study of the Kallu Institution Among the Macha Galla of Ethiopia. Gӧteborg: Etnografiska Museet, 1967.

– Lambert, B. Oromo Religion: Myths and Rites of the Western Oromo of Ethiopia: An Attempt to Understand. Berlin, 1990.

– Leus, Ton. Aadaa Boraanaa: A Dictionary of Borana Culture. Addis Ababa: Shama Books, 2006.

– Loo, J. V. D. The Religious Practices of the Guji Oromo. Addis Ababa, 1991.

– Sumner, Claude, Oromo Wisdom Literature. Vol.1 Addis Ababa: Gudina Tumsa Foundation, 1995.


* Yoseph Mulugeta Baba received his B.A; M.A; and Ph.D. degrees in Philosophy from the CUEA. His research areas include Metaphilosophy, Oromo Philosophy, Continental Philosophy, Post-colonial African Political Philosophy, Postmodernism, and Ethiopian historiography. Currently, he is completing his forthcoming book (CUEA PRESS) — on ‘The Ilaa-fi-Ilaamee Philosophical Method of Enquiry.’ He can be reached at

The Oromo Concept of Reality or Dhugaa-Ganama (Part 2)

By Yoseph Mulugeta Baba (Ph.D.)*

Part II

(In my Previous article, I elucidated the way in which the Oromo system of knowledge essentially takes its starting point from the concept of jireenya — existence — with reference to jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama — ontological characteristic of human being; for the understandingand interpretation of the world, of oneself, and of other people. In doing so, I clearly indicated how Oromo’s concept of Reality can best be subsumed under three broad concepts: (a)Uumaa (Cosmology); (b) Waaqa (Undifferentiated-Being); and (c) Saffu (Human Ontology). The present article is a continuation of previous one.)

The Oromo mode of thought “denies” any distinction between thought and things. As a consequence, Waaqa is conceived of as being both transcendent and immanent. This is due to the Oromo concept of Uumaa — creation. Uumaa is a world-of-process. This act of creation — Uumaa — signifies Waaqa’s presence as a natural part of the entire created natural world in the form of Ayyaanaa, which, in turn, is responsible for the emergence of new creatures — uumama — at different epochs of human history. Ayyaanaa is thus something of Waaqa. In other words, Waaqa is at the same time one and many. In Oromo philosophical thought, therefore, a distinction between the universe of thought and the universe of nature is untenable.

In the absence of such distinctions, however, how to define human nature remains problematic. Such a philosophical question sets the scene for the concept of Saffu. This concept has its origin in the description of human “existence” as being related to one or another kind of human “activity”. As I argued in my pervious article, unlike other things, human “existence” is intrinsically linked to jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama — ontological characteristic of human being. This “activity” can best be a result of having a knowledge of things in accordance with the place assigned to each of them by Waaqa. The Oromo notion of jireenya includes the idea that everything relates to nature outside of itself. As it would be absurd to have this notion about human reason, however, the concept of jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama was developed which enables one to interpret and balance the “paradox” posed by Uumaa versus Ayyaanaa.

Therefore, the concept of Saffu — human ontology — is not only about the Oromo’s moral philosophy, as some scholars have tended to argue. But, it is also an epistemological notion founded on the idea of the jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama — ontological characteristic of human being. The jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama essentially relates to the physical world as well as human society. The concept of Saffu — human ontology — is thus nothing other than a proper understanding and interpretation of one’s state of “existence” as s/he radically relates to both aspects of nature — physical world and human society. It is a critical reflection upon a relationship that ought to exist between each human being and Uumaa as well as Ayyaanaa, on the one hand, and between an individual and human society, on the other. (Raayyaa Horoo, 2008, p. 13)

The above epistemological assertion has two philosophical foundations: (a) seera Waaqa — the laws of Undifferentiated-Being and (b)seera Nama — the laws of human being. The former is not a complete form of knowledge. As I have already argued, the origin ofUndifferentiated-Being is wholly “unknown” to the human mind. Yet, coming to some sort of such knowledge is not impossible. This is due to the Oromo’s notion of Ayyaanaa. Ayyaanaa can be “thought of as fractions of Divinity [Undifferentiated-Being]: fractions which arise from the continuous Creation [Uumaa] by which God expresses himself and imposes structure on the world.” (Gudrun Dahl, 1996, p. 170) Hence, knowledge gained concerning the laws of “nature,” for instance, is attributed to Ayyaanaa. These laws are conceived of as fixedand eternal. They are thus immutable.

Seera Nama — the laws of human being —, on the other hand, are subject to change in the context of jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama —human “existence”. Although the seera Waaqa — the laws of Undifferentiated-Being — underlie every jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama — at different epochs of human history, yet; the understanding and interpretation of the seera Nama — the laws of human being — may differ considerably between individuals. In the Oromo concept of Reality, however, this difference need not be seen as a “contradiction”; unless such an interpretation goes against the concept of Saffu — human ontology. That is to say, the denial of Saffu is the failure of the individual to keep a balance between seera WaaqaAyyaanaa — and seera NamaUumaa. This “activity,” as indicated already, is generally called thejiruu-fi-jireenya-nama. The clear assumption is that, although one has a considerable difficulty (in) overcoming this “contradiction,” there is always room for the interpretation and understanding of the case in question to keep a balance between all things: Saffu, which finally leads, to pluralistic interpretations of the universe, despite the fact that there is just one universe.

Accordingly, the Oromo have adopted and developed a philosophic method of enquiry to identify and determine the tenable form of interpretation whenever various competing interpretations arise. This mode of investigation is called an ilaa-fi-ilaamee — philosophic-mode-of-thought. With such foundations in mind, let us, in the following subsection explore the justification of this form of enquiry. In order to do so, I would single out Gumii Gaayo as justification of the case in point.

(to be continued)

Note: The responsibility for the article is entirely mine.




– Baxter, P. T. W., Hultin, J., and Triulzi, A. eds. Being and Becoming Oromo: Historical and Anthropological Enquires. Asmara: The Red Sea Press, Inc., 1996.

– Dirribi D. B. Oromo Wisdom In Black Civilization. Finfinnee: Finfinne Printing and Publishing S. C., 2011.

– Geleta K. Hirkoo: English-Afan Oromo-Amharic Dictionary. Aster Nega Publishing Enterprise, 2008.

– Knutson, K. E. Authority and Change: A Study of the Kallu Institution Among the Macha Galla of Ethiopia. Gӧteborg: Etnografiska Museet, 1967.

– Lambert, B. Oromo Religion: Myths and Rites of the Western Oromo of Ethiopia: An Attempt to Understand. Berlin, 1990.

– Leus, Ton. Aadaa Boraanaa: A Dictionary of Borana Culture. Addis Ababa: Shama Books, 2006.

– Loo, J. V. D. The Religious Practices of the Guji Oromo. Addis Ababa, 1991.

– Raayyaa Horoo, Waaqeffannaa. Finfinnee, 2008.

– Sumner, Claude, Oromo Wisdom Literature. Vol.1 Addis Ababa: Gudina Tumsa Foundation, 1995.


The Oromo Concept of Reality or Dhugaa-Ganama (Part 3)

By Yoseph Mulugeta Baba (Ph.D.)*


Part III

In one of my previous articles (Part II), I tried to demonstrate how the Oromo concept of jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama — ontological characteristic of human being — has led to the conception ofSaffu, which enables one to interpret and balance the “paradox” posed by Uumaa versusAyyaanaa. It has been clearly indicated that the concept of Saffu — human ontology — is nothing other than a proper understanding and interpretation of one’s state of “existence” as s/he radically relates to both aspects of nature — physical world and human society. Suchunderstanding and interpretation of Reality (i.e. Uuma, Waaqa, Ayyaanaa) eventually leads to pluralistic interpretations of the universe. Consequently, the Oromo have adopted and developed a philosophic method of enquiry to identify and determine the tenable form of interpretation whenever various competing interpretations arise. This mode of investigation is called an ilaa-fi-ilaamee – philosophic-mode-of-thought. In the present article, I try to show and how this is the case. In order to do so, I would single out Gumii Gaayo as justification of the case in point.

To begin with, Gumii Gaayo — is the possible justification for an ilaa-fi-ilaamee – philosophic-mode-of-thought. It is one of the main and most critical institutions of the Gadaa System. Thus, I need to give clear and concise points on the latter first.

What is the Gadaa System?

“The Gada System is a system of gada classes (luba) or segments of genealogical generations that succeed each other every eight years in assuming political, military, judicial, legislative and ritual responsibilities.” (Asmarom, 2000/2006, p. 31; Asmarom, 1973, p. 81) It is the Oromo people’s central philosophical thought about the jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama — ontological characteristic of human being — which has “endured for at least four centuries of recorded history.” (Asmarom, 2000/2006, p. 30) Specifically, the Gadaa System is a political philosophy that necessarily characterizes individual men’s rights and responsibilities as each of them relates to all facets of human life from birth to death. (Yoseph, 2011, pp. 84-98)

First, in Oromo society, structural institutions are abstractly constructed in such a way that they in effect govern the jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama. They essentially explain how everything that exists in the universe has to be assumed, understood, and interpreted in accordance with whatever changes that take place in the lives of individuals. This makes the Gadaa System extremely complex. This is the main reason why the very term Gadaa can neither be precisely defined (Mohammed, 1994, p. 9) nor given a univocal interpretation. (Asmarom, 1973, p. 81) In light of this difficulty, however, the best way to understand the Gadaa philosophical system is to know how the jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama relates to the Oromo’s concept of time.

In Oromo philosophy, the concept of time and human “existence” are viewed as two sides of one coin. Time and human society are thus divided into grades and generational-“sets”, respectively. “The set or class is the group of people who share the same status and who perform their rites of passage together, whereas the grades are the stages of development through which the groups pass.” (Asmarom, 1973, p. 51) The full cycle of the Gadaa System has ten grades (Mohammed, 1994, p. 11): Daballe grade [0 – 8 years of age]; Folle orGame Titiqaa grade [9 – 16 years of age]; Qondalla or Game Gurgudaa grade [17 – 24 years of age]; Kuusa or Raba grade [25 – 32 years of age]; Raaba Doorii or Doorii grade [33 – 40 years of age]; Gadaa grade [41 – 48 years of age]; Yuba I grade [49 – 56 years of age];Yuba II grade [57 – 64 years of age]; Yuba III grade [65 – 72 years of age]; and Gadamojii grade [73 – 80 years of age]. (Gadaa Melbaa, 1985, p. 20)

Gadaa grade starts from the first eight years (0-8), counting every eight years till it reaches eleven which falls between 80-88, that is the person becomes an elderly. One Oromo stays in one Gadaa grade for eight years out of the total of his ages. In the course of his/her life time, one Oromo could not be out of these eleven grades. In each of the Gadaa grades, Oromo have their own clearly defined roles and responsibilities to be fulfilled, and there is a system or a ceremony when one passes from oneGadaa grade to the next. (Dirribi, 2011, p. 213)

The full cycle of Gadaa System is divided into two periods of forty years each. (Mohammed, 1994, p. 11) Each span of forty years is calledgogessa or mesensa — meaning “generation”. Thus, a “generation” lasts for forty years. Each “generation” consists of five parties. “A ‘generation’ is forty years long and there are five segments or gada classes within it.” (Asmarom, 2000/2006, p. 31) The five parties are theGadaa of the father (Melbaa, Muudanaa, Kilollee, Biifolee, Michille) and the gadaa of the son (Harmuufaa, Roobalee, Birmaji, Mullataa, Duulo). “The basic rule of the gada system is that the newly born infant boy always enters the system of grades exactly forty years behind the father, regardless of the age of the father. Father and son are five grades apart at all times.” (Asmarom, 1973, p. 50)

At the end, the relationship between TIME and HUMAN SOCIETY can well be subsumed under Asmarom’s words:

Here we find a society that is stratified into two distinct but cross-cutting systems of peer-group structures. One is a system in which the members of each class are recruited strictly on the basis of chronological age. The other is a system in which the members are recruited equally strictly on the basis of genealogical generation. The first has nothing to do with genealogical ties. The second has little to do with the age. Both types of social groups are formed every eight years. Both sets of groups pass from one stage of development to the next every eight years. (Asmarom, 1973, pp. 50-51)

Keeping a concise summary of the Gadaa System in mind, let us now examine Gumii Gaayo — in order to see what justification there is for an ilaa-fi-ilaamee – philosophic-mode-of-thought.

The Gumii Gaayo

Of all the ten grades, the most important, in the Gadaa cycle, is the sixth stage, i.e. 41 to 48 years. It is the kernel stage of the GadaaSystem. This stage is seen as a major landmark in the Oromo philosophical thought. This eight year period begins and ends with a formal power transfer ceremony known as baallii or jarra. (Asmarom, 2000/2006, 217) Baallii is the event that ends the Gadaa of the previous eight years and starts the new one. (Mohammed, 1994, p. 15) “Ritual leader and time reckoning agent (Ayyaantuu) decides when and where to transfer the ‘baallii,’ and creates favorable atmosphere to effect the transfer.” (Dirribi, 2011, 243)

After this formal power transfer ceremony, there is a discourse and a long debate on the substance of the new law. This discourse is the most inclusive event in the Oromo political life (Asmarom, 1973, p. 93); and consequently, the event is known as Gumii Gaayo. “Gumi means ‘the multitude’ because it is a very large assembly made up of many councilors (hayuu) and assemblies (ya’a) drawn from different sections of the Gada institution.” (Asmarom, 2000/2006, p. 97) Thus, the phrase “Gumii Gaayo” literally means “the national assembly.” Asmarom points out that the National Assembly or Gumii is “made up of all the Gada assemblies of the Oromo, who meet, once every eight years, to review the laws, to proclaim new laws, to evaluate the men in power, and to resolve major conflicts that could not be resolved at lower levels of their judicial organization.” (Asmarom, 2000/2006, p. 100) It is “the supreme juridical and formal legislative body” (Bassi, 1996, 155) or “the ultimate high court of” (Helland, 1996, p. 141) Oromo society. As Marco Bassi cautions, however, “it would be misleading to think of it in terms of a central and permanent legislative body on the model of a modern parliament. The Gumii Gaayoo only meets periodically, once every gada period (8 years), and the laws actually proclaimed during each general assembly are really very few.” (Bassi, 1996, p. 155) “The purpose of the meeting is not to promulgate new laws but by reviewing the existing ones to reinforce aadaa [custom], and occasionally to do away with some custom that is felt (usually due to external pressure) has become outdated.” (Leus, 2006, p. 237)

Here, my main concern is not to discuss either the political or the ritual aspect of Gumii Gaayo. Such a thorough discussion has already been carried out by many scholars of the social sciences – who should get all THE CREDIT in this regard. Rather, my central issue of investigation is to analyze and disclose the philosophical mode of thought being imbedded during the long debate and discourse during the major event of Gumii Gaayo as the justification of an ilaaf-fi-ilaamee – philosophic-mode-of-thought. To begin with, this philosophical mode of thought has its origin in the Oromo philosophical distinction between seera — laws and aadaa — “custom”. Of the former one, Asmarom has pointed out:

One of the most interesting aspects of Oromo tradition is that laws are treated as a product of human deliberation not a gift of God or of heroic ancestors.

… the people view the laws as being their own, not something imposed upon them by a divine force, by venerated patriarchal lawgivers, by superior class of learned men, or by “Tradition” in the generic sense. (Asmarom, 2000/2006, pp. 208-209)

In the national assembly, for instance, the Gumii deliberately alter or reaffirm both old and new laws. The Oromo thought about laws is, hence, that they are not immutable. Unlike “customs,” the existing laws can be matter of faculty abrogated to make new laws. “In Oromo culture, laws are known as ‘sera’ customs as ‘ada’ and it is the laws that are subjected to deliberate change.” (Asmarom, 2000/2008, p. 108)

In contradistinction to laws, however, the concept of “customs” is virtually immutable. This is due to epistemological issues. In Oromo philosophical thought, “customs” are considered immutable NOT because they are reasonably justified, but rather because they are BEYOND human knowledge as Reality, with a capital R, cannot be directly observed in jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama — ontological characteristic of human being. As a consequence, accepting the notion of there being a natural law is a necessary base in the Oromo concept of “customs,” for the simple reason that the latter cannot, unlike laws, be subjected to any deliberate change or interpretation. This notion is known as Dhugaa-Ganama, — “the” Primordial-Truth — which is to say “the” Absolute Truth. Any breach of the Primordial-Truth is considered a violation of the act of creation — Uumaa. To say the least, this is to go against the concept of Saffu.

As I have argued above, the whole concept of Saffu — human ontology — is one’s effort to keep a balance between Ayyaanaa andUumaa. Hence, in the Oromo concept of Reality, fatal flaws that exist in jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama — ontological characteristic of human being — are attributed to man’s failure to balance between “the” Primordial-Truth and the laws – rather than resulting from Waaqa’s very act of creation. “The Oromo believe that things go wrong because individuals or their parents might have gone out of the normal track (Safuu) and they advise the person who happens to be in a wrong direction to correct his mistakes and come back to the right track.” (Dirribi, 2011, p. 29) Therefore, what would deliberately be subjected to change is not the Primordial-Truth, which is absolute and eternal per se, but the laws. Yet, the latter ought to be founded on the former for its interpretation. The point is: the Primordial-Truth must be the ultimate ground of one’s interpretations of laws. “The concept Safuu embodies broader idea. Safuu is, in fact, about laws. However, not all laws are safuu. Man-made laws are temporary, they are made to address certain problems and they change over time. Saffu is not subject to change. Safuu is more of about the laws of nature.” (Dirribi, 2011, 75)

Despite this foundation, however, there are still various forms of interpretations. Eventually, this would lead to competing forms ofinterpretation. Hence, since Reality CANNOT be observed directly by an individual, in his/her jiruu-fi-jireenya, NONE of his/her interpretation is taken to be absolute and objective. This directly poses the epistemological problem of determining or identifying the correct or the tenable answer to the case in question. Moreover, the viable solution to the case in question might be obscured by the dominance of worn-out interpretations. At the end, this would blind the observer to an alternative solution to the case in question.

Accordingly, the Oromo have adopted a philosophical approach known as an ilaa-fi-ilaamee – philosophic-mode-of-thought to overcome such an epistemological problem. In many cases, this philosophical mode of thought has been widely manifested in the preliminary and main sessions of Gumii Gaayo. Initially, Gumii Gaayo was intended to provoke an intellectual discourse. “A remarkable aspect of the institution is that managing the assembly requires knowledge of laws, rituals, gada history, chronology and time-reckoning.” (Asmarom, 2000/2006, p. 211) The most important aspect of this intellectual discourse, however, is not the debates themselves which ensue. Rather, it is sober reflection in various discourses that is generated as a means of finding common ground for the meeting of minds.

Gumii is not a debater’s arena but a place for sober reflection. The basic guideline for the deliberations is simply this: Do not look for the worst in what others have said in order to undermine their position and win an argument; look for the best they have to offer, so as to find the common ground…There are many practical strategies that have been developed to help people approach that ideal. (Asmarom, 2000/2006, p. 213)

The main justifiable reason why the Oromo have adopted such an approach is due to their conception of Reality: Uumaa, Waaqa, andSaffu. The very term fi‘and’ — clearly indicates how human “existence” is essentially characterized by both ilaa — “objective” knowledge of an entity and ilaamee — one’s understanding and interpretation of that “entity”. It must be noted that both ilaa and ilaamee are technical terms that have been deeply embedded with philosophic concepts. Ilaa refers to peoples’ views of the “world” as presented and beingunderstood or interpreted in the systematic knowledge of the community. It is their “objective” view of the “world” or an entity in question, although not absolute per se. In Oromo philosophical thought, there is no possibility of having absolute knowledge, except in the case ofWaaqa. Yet, some basic ultimate principles, which universally govern the jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama, are comprehensible to human reason by means of Ayyaanaa. Such knowledge is a priori to and independent of ilaamee.

Ilaamee, on the other hand, refers to one’s understanding and interpretation of these ultimate principles in the space-time world — Uumaa. Put simply, it is a critical explanation of one’s understanding of Uumaa in accordance with the ultimate universal principles — expressed inAyyaanaa. The main implication is that what an individual understands and interprets (i.e. ilaamee) must be essentially conjoined (i.e. —fi—) with “the” Absolute Reality” (i.e. ilaa) of the universe that ultimately rests upon Waaqa, or the Primordial-Truth, or Universal Reality, etc.

Hence, this approach has necessitated an ilaa-fi-ilaamee – philosophic-mode-of-thought on the grounds that NO interpretation can be absolute. In the Oromo philosophy, since the concept of the Primordial-Truth equally serves as the starting point (i.e. ilaa) for an individual’sinterpretation (i.e. ilaamee) of the universe, NO interpretation (I repeat! NO interpretation) is complete in itself. Hence, the tenable form of an interpretation to the case in question must be identified and determined carefully. In so doing, one should adhere to an ilaa-fi-ilaamee – philosophic-mode-of-thought to properly make such an identification as well as any determination. Let me explicate and show how this is the case!

(to be continued)

Note: The responsibility for the article is entirely mine.




Asmarom L. Gada: Three Approaches to the Study of African Society. New York: The Free Press, 1973.

___________. Oromo Democracy: An Indigenous African Political System. Philadelphia, PA, RSP, 2000/2006.

Baxter, P. T. W., Hultin, J., and Triulzi, A. eds. Being and Becoming Oromo: Historical and Anthropological Enquires. Asmara: The Red Sea Press, Inc., 1996.

Bassi, M. “Power’s Ambiguity or The Political Significance of Gada.” In Being and Becoming Oromo: Historical and Anthropological Enquires, eds. P. T. W. Baxter, John Hultin and Alessandro Triulzi. Asmara: The Red Sea Press, Inc., 1996, 150-161.

Dahl, G. “Sources of Life and Identity.” In Being and Becoming Oromo: Historical and Anthropological Enquires, eds. P. T. W. Baxter, John Hultin and Alessandro Triulzi. Asmara: The Red Sea Press, Inc., 1996, 162-177.

Dirribi D. B. Oromo Wisdom In Black Civilization. Finfinnee: Finfinne Printing and Publishing S. C., 2011.

Gadaa M. Oromiya. Addis Ababa, 1985.

Gemetchu, M. “Oromumma: Tradition, Consciousness and Identity.” eds. P. T. W. Baxter, John Hultin and Alessandro Triulzi. Asmara: The Red Sea Press, Inc., 1996, 92-102.

Helland, J. “The Political Viability of Boorana Pastoralism.” In Being and Becoming Oromo: Historical and Anthropological Enquires eds. P. T. W. Baxter, Jan Hultin and Alessandro Triulzi. Asmara: The Red Sea Press, Inc., 1996, 132-149.

Geleta K. Hirkoo: English-Afan Oromo-Amharic Dictionary. Aster Nega Publishing Enterprise, 2008.

Knutson, K. E. Authority and Change: A Study of the Kallu Institution Among the Macha Galla of Ethiopia. Gӧteborg: Etnografiska Museet, 1967.

Lambert, B. Oromo Religion: Myths and Rites of the Western Oromo of Ethiopia: An Attempt to Understand. Berlin, 1990.

Leus, Ton. Aadaa Boraanaa: A Dictionary of Borana Culture. Addis Ababa: Shama Books, 2006.

Loo, J. V. D. The Religious Practices of the Guji Oromo. Addis Ababa, 1991.

Raayyaa Horoo, Waaqeffannaa. Finfinnee, 2008.

Sumner, Claude, Oromo Wisdom Literature. Vol.1 Addis Ababa: Gudina Tumsa Foundation, 1995.

Yoseph Mulugeta, “The Role of Negritude in Restoring an Indigenous Gada Oromo Political Philosophy for ‘Good Governance’ in Ethiopia.” M. A. Thesis. The Catholic University of Eastern Africa, 2011.


* Yoseph Mulugeta Baba received his B.A; M.A; and Ph.D. degrees in Philosophy from the CUEA. His research areas include Metaphilosophy, Oromo Philosophy, Continental Philosophy, Post-colonial African Political Philosophy, Postmodernism, and Ethiopian historiography. Currently, he is completing his forthcoming book (CUEA PRESS) — on ‘The Ilaa-fi-Ilaamee Philosophical Method of Enquiry.’ He can be reached at




The Oromo Concept of Reality or Dhugaa-Ganama

By Yoseph Mulugeta Baba (Ph.D.)*
Part IV
In an ilaa-fi-ilaamee-philosophic-mode-of-thought, what identifies and determines the possibility or the tenability of an answer to the case in question is not a form of an interpretation that an individual employs, but the case in question itself. InGumii Gaayo, the tenability of the solution has nothing to do with the form of an interpretation that one offers. It is, rather, determined by what the problem at issue is. When Gumii meet every eight years and a long debate is held between hayyu — councilors and ya’a — assemblies, what becomes apparent first is not the proclamation of or the interpretation of the new laws. Nor, is it the resolving of whatever major conflicts could not be resolved at lower levels of their judicial organization. It is rather, the reality of various forms of questions that essentially arise from a life-crises in the jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama, crises which every individual and the community have experienced with in different Gadaa classes.
The Gumii sees and discusses what the Gadaa has done for the country during the last eight years. The Gumii shows the right direction to the Gadaa, and whenever they are on wrong ways, it suggests ways of filling the gaps observed in the duties of the Gadaa. The Gumii deposes the Gadaa who misuses the power of the people; and Oromo is governed or administered by the laws formulated by human beings (the rule of law) in contrast to the divine or religious rules; and there is no more witness than the function of Gumii for this. ( Dirribi, 2011, p. 258)
As such, each interpretation and its understanding must be radically based on the reality of the class then in leadership which will last for eight years. Hence, the period of eight years provides horizonsthrough which individuals must echo the life-crisis that they have gone through and experienced.
In this manner, whenever competing interpretations arise, one can clearly identify as well as determine the tenable mode of interpretation to the problem at hand. It would thus be absurd to try to offer a tenable answer without a proper knowledge of what the case at issue is. Therefore, the philosophical thought that characterizes Gumii Gaayo can be subsumed under three claims:
  1. A tenable solution to any problem is determined by the case in question that comes to be identified during every Gadaa class of eight years.
  2. The mode of interpretation used for the problem at issue is a determinant of the tenability of a solution to a life-crisis in the jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama— ontological characteristic of human being.
  3. Ergo, it is not impossible for the latter claim to be unconditionally determined by the former claim, but not viceversa.
As I have argued above, Gumii is not the debater’s arena but a place for sober reflection. The main reason is that once the case in question is identified, there should be little room for the radical mode of thought. A radical mode of thought is a peculiar fallacy that inherently involves defending or refuting any form of a thesis on the grounds that it was the answer when one’s own method of enquiry was used. However, ‘x’ or ‘y’ does so without admitting that, wittingly or unwittingly, a correct thesis can only be arrived at by the case in question rather than a method of enquiry of one’s choosing. 
Therefore, the assumption that the case in question essentially determines any form of interpretation and its tenability is the crux of an ilaa-fi-ilaamee-philosophic-mode-thought. Consequently, the mode of reasoning and an individual’s very intention is neither to justify his/her interpretation nor to dismiss that of the others. Rather, it is to give a proper and tenable form of interpretation in accordance with the case in question. As such, an individual should arrive at two judgments: (a) a decision to successfully dismiss any radical mode of though; and (b) a decision to impartially identify a tenable solution to the problem at hand. In this manner, one can dismiss some pseudo-epistemological assumptions inherent not only in one’s interpretation, but also in that of others. Asmarom is thus quite right when he explicitly affirms the basic principles that underlie Gumii: “Do not look for the worst in what others have said in order to undermine their position and to win an argument; look for the best they have to offer, so as to find the common ground for the meeting of minds.” (Asmarom, 2000/2006, p. 213)
Hence, in an ilaa-fi-ilaamee-philosophic-mode-of-thought, the central issue is not to take a stand, but to properly understand the case in question. It is not to win an argument. Nor is it an art of getting one’s own way. Neither is it an arguing for a desired outcome so that others get out of one’s way without being challenged intellectually. Neither is it a way to place Others under one’s mental bondage by forcing them to accept one’s understanding of Reality. Nor is it seen as a positive value to hold onto a rigid approach to the last dying effort. In contradistinction, an ilaa-fi-ilaamee-mode-of-thought involves becoming aware of alternative solutions based on whatever the case at issue is. For in reality there is nosuch thing as a solution without a consideration of the case in question, just as there is not any form of question without pondering a given life crisis in jiruu-fi-jireenya-nama.
Here the question arises whether Heidegger was always original in his way of conceiving Dasein i.e.jiruu-fi-jireenyaa-nama. According to Heidegger, the Dasein is a distinctive being (Sein) compared with all other beings (Seiendes); i.e. it is a being (Seiendes) whose Being (Sein) not only has the determinative character of existence, but also is endowed with the privilege of understanding Being. (Heidegger, 1978, p. 32) To do indigenous thinkers/philosophers justice, we need to take a closer look at the fundamental distinction which characterizes the thought of Oromo philosophy’s of jireenya—existence. This is the distinction between jiruu-fi-jireenyaa-nama and jireenya. As I argued in my previous articles, in Oromo philosophical thought, it would be meaningless or absurd to identify human “existence” with that of the existence of other entities. Man’s very “existence” differs by virtue of his/her “activity”. In contradistinction to all other entities—jireenya—the very jiruu-fi-jireenyaa-nama is endowed with understanding and interpreting his/her “activity”. It is capable of understanding Reality (UumaaWaaqa,Saffu) as this manifested in the systematic knowledge of the “world”—Ilaa.
In a similar vein, it is capable of interpretingIlaamee—one’s understanding in the space-time world—Uumaa. The jiruu-fi-jireenyaa-nama manifests itself in its temporality and everydayness has to be interpreted—IlaameeIlaamee is always a process of understanding and then interpreting the Ilaa. This is crystal clear in Gumii Gaayo where the period of eight years (Gadaa) provides horizons through which individual echoes the life-crises s/he has gone through and experienced. Therefore, Heidegger’s conceptions of Dasein and hermeneutic phenomenology can hardly be original, in a thorough sense.
(to be continued)

Note: The responsibility for the article is entirely mine.



  • Asmarom L. Gada: Three Approaches to the Study of African Society. New York: The Free Press, 1973.
  • ___________. Oromo Democracy: An Indigenous African Political System. Philadelphia, PA, RSP, 2000/2006.
  • Baxter, P. T. W., Hultin, J., and Triulzi, A. eds. Being and Becoming Oromo: Historical and   Anthropological Enquires. Asmara: The Red Sea Press, Inc., 1996.
  • Bassi, M. “Power’s Ambiguity or The Political Significance of Gada.” In Being and Becoming   Oromo: Historical and Anthropological Enquires, eds. P. T. W. Baxter, John Hultin and Alessandro Triulzi. Asmara: The Red Sea Press, Inc., 1996, 150-161.
  • Dahl, G. “Sources of Life and Identity.” In Being and Becoming Oromo: Historical and Anthropological Enquires, eds. P. T. W. Baxter, John Hultin and Alessandro Triulzi. Asmara: The Red Sea Press, Inc., 1996, 162-177.
  • Dirribi D. B. Oromo Wisdom In Black Civilization. Finfinnee: Finfinne Printing and Publishing S. C., 2011.
  • Gada M. Oromiya. Addis Ababa, 1985.
  • Gemetchu, M. “Oromumma: Tradition, Consciousness and Identity.” eds. P. T. W. Baxter, John Hultin and Alessandro Triulzi. Asmara: The Red Sea Press, Inc., 1996, 92-102.
  • Heidegger, M. Being and Time. Trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1978.
  • Helland, J. “The Political Viability of Boorana Pastoralism.” In Being and Becoming Oromo: Historical and Anthropological Enquires eds. P. T. W. Baxter, Jan Hultin and Alessandro Triulzi. Asmara: The Red Sea Press, Inc., 1996, 132-149.
  • Geleta K. Hirkoo: English-Afan Oromo-Amharic Dictionary. Aster Nega Publishing Enterprise, 2008.
  • Knutson, K. E. Authority and Change: A Study of the Kallu Institution Among the Macha Galla of Ethiopia. Gӧteborg: Etnografiska Museet, 1967.
  • Lambert, B. Oromo Religion: Myths and Rites of the Western Oromo of Ethiopia:  An Attempt to Understand. Berlin, 1990.
  • Leus, Ton. Aadaa Boraanaa: A Dictionary of Borana Culture. Addis Ababa: Shama Books, 2006.
  • Loo, J. V. D. The Religious Practices of the Guji Oromo. Addis Ababa, 1991.
  • Raayyaa Horoo, Waaqeffannaa. Finfinnee, 2008.
  • Sumner, Claude, Oromo Wisdom Literature. Vol.1 Addis Ababa: Gudina Tumsa Foundation, 1995.
  • Yoseph Mulugeta, “The Role of Negritude in Restoring an Indigenous Gada Oromo Political Philosophy for ‘Good Governance’ in Ethiopia.” M. A. Thesis. The Catholic University of Eastern Africa, 2011.

yoseph_mulugeta_baba*Yoseph Mulugeta Baba received his B.A; M.A; and Ph.D degrees in Philosophy from the CUEA. His research areas include Metaphilosophy, Oromo Philosophy, Continental Philosophy, Post-colonial African Political Philosophy, Postmodernism, and Ethiopian historiography. Currently, he is completing his forthcoming book (CUEA PRESS)—on The Ilaa-fi-Ilaamee Philosophical Method of Enquiry. He can be reached at

Historical and Contemporary Relations between Europe and the Oromo March 26, 2015

Posted by OromianEconomist in Development Studies, Oromo Studies.
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Oromo Studies Association’s (OSA’s) Midyear 2015 Conference in Munich, Germany (March 28-29)

The theme of the Conference: “Historical and Contemporary Relations between Europe and the Oromo.


Oromo Studies Association Midyear Conference in Munich, Germany, 2015

For more details of the program click at:

OSA Midyear Conference, March 2015

Interview with Prof. Mekuria Bulcha, TVORO September 4, 2013

Posted by OromianEconomist in Uncategorized.
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Interview with Mekuria Bulcha, author and university professor


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