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"None are more hopelessly enslaved than those Oromo’s who falsely believe they are free." “To the point that even when confronted with facts, the lies are believed rather than the facts"
A Symbol of Oromo Identity: Oromo music has played a significant role in frustrating the colonizer's wish to destroy Oromo identity by destroying Oromo culture. The colonial Abyssinian government stripped the Oromo people of their land, political institutions, human rights, and reduced them to share croppers and serfs. But the colonial government could not stop the Oromo people from using their language. One of the ways the Oromos used their language to express themselves was through Oromo songs and music.My thanks goes to some brave oromo music producer such as Umer Suleeyman. Everything can be taken from a man but ... the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.
Oromo People Flage.
Who was it who said, "history is not dead, it's not even past"? How true it is. Today, some Ethiopians from certain sectors try to counsel us that, we, the Oromos, should forget about the past. They proclaim to us that the past is dead, it is marginal.
They tell us to just ignore what happened to us as a nation some hundred and plus years ago. They implore us to disremember about our subjugation and our fight for freedom to end it. They urge us not to honor our heroes who fought and died struggling against the Ethiopian imperial expansion. In the same vein they tell us this, they also say that we should celebrate their heroes, Menilik, Yohanes, Tewodros, etc, who massacred our people in millions. What an affront to our national sensibility and pride? They are adding insult to the injury that they have already caused. Mind-bogglingly they say this, in the same chapter they invite us to a dialogue.
Those who do not learn from history are apt to repeat it. Those who tell us to forget about the past do not want us to learn from the past. They want us to have a blank memory about the past because that will make it easier for them to take us back to status quo ante 1991. Thanks to the gallant Oromo sons and daughters our struggle has come a very long way. However piecemeal it had been, the Oromo people as a nation have reclaimed a lot of what had been taken away from us in the last hundred plus years. And there is no ways that we will relinquish at will these rights we grabbed back from them through our blood and toil. We do not want history to repeat again. And we do not want the past and current ugly history of domination and subjugation to be deleted from our memory. It is only by reminding ourselves about them that we can stand guard against the reemergence of such rule, and can proudly say, "never again" once we have done away with them.
As Oromos we do not want to be obsessed with the past to the extent of becoming oblivious of the present, and we do not want the past to be obstacle from finding solutions to chart our future. And we also understand that our common past history with Ethiopia cannot be an inspiration for future unity. But this does not mean we should forget the past. This is impossible and undesirable for the reason stated above. What we can do is only forgive, but forget, we cannot, and forgive we should. It should be understood that in any history and in history of nations more so, the present is intimately linked to the past. Today has no meaning if not based on yesterday or if not seen in connection with the past. There is no clean slate in history, and today is not cleanly cut and separated from yesteryears. Both are interwoven together. Thus, any political solution that would not take into account the way that this empire was formed and devise solutions accordingly is doomed to fail. For this purpose also the past becomes important and relevant to the present.
The Oromo people are crying out for their freedom but the west continues to ignore these cries. Thousands are killed and many more forced to leave their country. Today there are more than 250,000 Oromo refugees throughout Africa. Some sources suggest that up to 30,000 Oromo people are still political prisoners.
The oppression of the Oromo people has been a linchpin of neo-colonial policy since last century. As Oromos number in the millions and have traditionally lived in much of the north-east of Africa, their subjugation was critical for neo-colonial ``stability'' in Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia. Until 1934, southern Oromia maintained its independence, and between 1928 and 1936 the Oromo Independence Movement rose up in northern Oromia.
After an internal power struggle among the Abyssinian ruling clique, in 1930 Haile Selassie came to power. Selassie's strategy relied on dividing the Oromo people - establishing regional administrations and coopting a section of the educated Oromo population. Under this regime the Oromo people faced probably their worse oppression.
In 1974 the super-exploited Oromo peasantry revolted by refusing to pay the 75% of their produce in tax required by the Selassie regime. The revolt started in the north, spread throughout Ethiopia and played an important role in the collapse of the regime. While the Oromo gained same temporary respite, the new Mengistu regime proved to be another dictatorial yoke.
Mengistu used the Oromo people to wage his war against the Eritrean independence struggle. Some 80% of army used against the Eritreans was composed of Oromo. Knowing that they could not win without Oromo support, the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front and the Eritrean People's Liberation Front established the Oromo People's Democratic Organisation (OPDO).
The development of some links with the Oromo national movement and formation of the Ethiopian People's Democratic Revolutionary Front (EPDRF) helped bring about the end of the Mengistu regime and the establishment of a new republic, inaugurated August 21, 1995.
While the new regime has allowed for some Oromo autonomy, including the restoration of the Oromo language, the Oromo people remain without the statehood that they demand. The current regime has minimal Oromo support,
The Council of Leaders of United Liberation Forces of Oromia (ULFO) held a meeting from Oct. 10 - 14, 2003 and deliberated in depth on the situation of the Oromo people's liberation struggle, on the political developments in the empire state of Ethiopia, the Horn and around the globe, and issued the following resolution.
1. The basic principle on which the United Liberation Forces of Oromia (Ethiopia) was created in 2000, the Memorandum of Understanding signed by founding member organizations on July 25, 2000 and the Consensus 2000 of September 20, 2000 are still holding and remain binding. Liberation of Oromia was the corner stone on which ULFO was established. When the Meeting reviewed the past three years performances of ULFO, though some progress was made, when looked at its totality, it was concluded as unsatisfactory. Hence the Meeting concluded that ULFO has to be revitalized and invigorated to fulfill its expectations and historical duties.
From the time they managed to subjugate the Oromo people different Ethiopian regimes that came and went all worked relentlessly to divide and weaken Oromo people. there enemies know the strength and weakness they have as a people. They clearly know that with its population size and the tremendous resources it has, if Oromo people is united there is no force that can stand against it. They are always afraid of Oromo nationalism and unity. Hence, they have .
Arsii Oromo Political and Military Resistance Against the Shoan Colonial Conquest (1881-6)
Journal of Oromo Studies,
They restored and enlarged the old kingdom of Shoa. But it was not the same kingdom. It was larger, and because the Oromo were too numerous to be exterminated or expelled, they had to be incorporated."
Perham's (1969) statement above, which has become classic, reflects the prevailing conception of traditional historiography on which much of modem official imperial history is founded, deliberately or not, confuses restoration with colonial conquest, and colonization with internal (civil) war. This imperial ideology is based on the myth of three thousand years of history that Ethiopia was always united, that the whole of Eastern Africa belonged to Abyssinia, and that the peoples who inhabited these regions were their subjects. In fact, it was the Oromo (or their country) who were most affected by this myth as Menelik claimed the "country all the way south to Mombassa" which seems to have corresponded to some Amhara legends of Oromo’s country of origin.
It was on the basis of this false assumption that Menelik wrote the famous circular of 1891 to claim "historic territory" and colonial power status in the "Scramble for Africa" although no one, neither politicians nor scholars took this conjectural letter seriously at that time. It was for the same reason that some imperial ideologists considered other nations and nationalities in the country, the Oromo in particular, as "outsiders". The invention of "strangers" and "subjects" was nothing more than a continuation (prolongation) of ancient legends, myths and pseudo- historical traditions about Oromo origin, including the name "Galla" as they were fabricated and developed by the clergy for politico-ideological gains. This gave rise to a widely accepted notion and distorted image of the Oromo society, even among some academic circles who depended on (or were influenced by) these sources. On their part, some scholars belonging to such circles contributed to the development of ethnocentric conception of history and scholarship as the following terms of Professor E. Ullendorf indicate: "The Oromo had nothing to contribute to the civilization of Ethiopia, they possessed no material culture or intellectual culture, and their social organization was at a far lower stage of development than of the population among whom they settled".
According to Perham, who uncritically took up the official myth, the destiny reserved for the Oromo was extermination or expulsion. This implied that the Oromo were emigres, and it was in the face of the in capacity of the Abyssinian state to entirely exterminate or expel them that they had to be incorporated. In this context, it was a matter of cultural as well political and territorial incorporation. The conquered peoples were denied their identity, culture, and history. What Perham wrote was taken up by some of her followers who tried to develop the same point differently in order to advocate, in one way or another, assimilation. In so doing, they provided ideological support for the imperial regime and the modem politico-intellectual elite who always claimed that they were building a nation.
Not only did they make superficial comparisons between the social organization of the peoples forming the empire which led them to establish a hierarchy of culture and psychology, but they also came up with a crude idea to justify the domination by one ethnic group over others, leading to the subordination of different cultures to chosen imperial codes. The classification of cultures implies explicitly or implicitly the acceptance of assimilation. Furthermore, the philosophical root of assimilation, although the term may have various meanings depending upon the context, is closely related to the concept of hierarchy of cultures: there are "higher" and "lower" or "weak" and "strong" cultures. Others consider imperial domination and the destruction of identities of nations and nationalities as a process of "nation- building", an euphemistic term for assimilation?. The paradox is, however, that they claim that Ethiopia is an empire in the formal sense of the term", and at the same time justify or forecast the advent of coherent nation-state from a multinational empire based on the single "ethnic core," the Amhara identity.
If Abyssinia, with its Christian state on the northern plateau, has a long and continual history of many centuries, then modem Ethiopia which is three or four times bigger than traditional Abyssinia with its borders and its tens of nations, nationalities and peoples, came into being as a result of brutal military conquest which was facilitated by the collusion of interests between European imperialism and internal Shoan colonialism during the second half of the last century. Here our major thrust is not to discuss the themes we raised, but rather to examine the process of Shoan colonial expansion which started in the first half of the last century, with the conquest of a great majority of the Tulama. The Oromo conquest and incorporation was accomplished by the Abyssinian state under Menelik during the last quarter of the 19th century.
This particular study is dedicated to the resistance of the Arsi Oromo against Shoan colonialism in the 1880s. This war of conquest and the local Arsi resistance were of vital historical importance for the following reasons. First, it represented one of the most bitter anti-colonial struggles in the Horn of Africa. The long years it took and the human and material losses it provoked largely exceeded that of Adwa which was fought between Ethiopia and Italy. It even led to atrocities and mutilations which none of the contemporary European colonial powers practiced in the Horn of Africa. Second, from Oromo historical point of view, the massive mobilization and fierce resistance clearly indicate higher organizational and military capacities of the traditional Oromo society under its socio-political system, namely the Gadaa. Third, the failure of Menelik’s force to defeat the Arsi for more than five years reinforces the thesis that without the collusion of the Shoan and Italian colonial policies and without the encouragement or understanding of other colonial powers, Menelik would not have won the war nor would he have been in a position to dominate the south in general and the Oromo, in particular. Moreover, Arsi resistance has turned out to be instructive in the sense that when and where the Oromo groups avoided internal conflicts and remained united, they did not lose any war against their adversaries and they were a hard nut to crack. It is worth to compare the Arsi with the Tulama who became weak through internal wars and were used one against the other, and then against other peoples in the south by the Shoan kings.
Last, but not least, the sacrifice of tens of thousands of fighters and martyrs in defense of their dignity and freedom seems to have become a rallying point, a symbol of ancestral struggle against domination and a source of inspiration in the quest for the political identity of the Oromo nation. We will, therefore, see how and why the Arsi managed to resist for such a long period by taking into consideration the social organization and the conception of war in Oromo society. We will briefly analyze the quality of military and political leadership of the resistance through three important leaders. Finally, we will briefly examine the major war engagements, their effects on Oromo society and the carnage perpetrated by the Shoan state, as well as Arsi memorable victories.
Origins of Arsi Strength
One has to ask why and how the Arsi succeeded in mobilizing such a large fighting force for many years and successfully resisted Menelik who easily defeated Italy in a single battle? A variety of factors, in fact, were involved. The first had to do with their unquestionable demographic strength. The extension of Arsi territory and the number of the people who belonged to the Arsi social universe was more important than one could imagine. For the Amhara and foreign observers, the Arsi had been reduced to the smallest province between the Awash and the Shabale River in Ethiopia. But actually, the Arsi constituted the largest single branch of the Oromo nation which comprise a good half of the Ethiopian population, and above all the largest national group in east Africa covering practically the whole territory between the Tulama and the Somali, i.e., a large part of the Rift Valley up to the Guraghe country, around Shashemene and Awassa area, the Arsi-Bale regions, western Hararghe and eastern Sidamo. It is not surprising, therefore, that they managed to raise between 100,000 and 1,000,000 fighters against the colonizing force according to some sources.
The second important factor which enabled the Arsi to put up armed resistance to a degree unknown among the conquered societies of the south, was their remarkable internal peace and unity. Like their neighbors, the Borana, the Arsi did not wage internal war. They even claim that once upon a time, they were not supposed to kill another Oromo, the Guji or Karayyu, etc, since their ancestors took a Kaka Oromoo (Oromo oath) not to kill each other. This important fact, however, was forgotten with the test of time. So, in fact, periodic fighting with their neighbors had been frequent and some time bloody. Internal Arsi conflicts, however serious they may have been, never led to war and military confrontation, nor to retaliatory measures; they always settled their conflicts through arbitration and reconciliation even up to the present day.
The Arsi were divided into two relatively localized sociological, but non matrimonial moieties which in turn were sub-divided into named and politically independent Gossa. All these Gossa, both of "pure" Oromo origin (Arsi) and the "Hadiya," the adopted pre-Oromo population during the Oromo migration and the subsequent centuries claim that they descended from the same mythical founding father (Arsi). Beyond this myth of common descent, all these Gossa, except the Qaallu and the clans called Miisee who observed strict matrimonial interdiction, are tied to each other by a complex web of marriage alliances. In brief, they saw each other as kinsmen or allied; the absence of internal armed hostility was a key factor in their confrontation with Menelik and his predecessors.
On the other hand, where the Oromo were divided, they were easily used one against the other, as in the case of the Tulama who became an instrument of Shoan expansionism by enrolling as soldiers and military commanders, the best known being Gobana. On this point, one could quote a Shoan source itself:
"The Galla of Galan and the Abichu fought for seven years and every time the Galan were the victors. The war began to be of a great interest to Sahle Selassie. He allied himself with the Abichu and gave them support. By siding with the Abichu he subjugated the Galan, Gidda, Wabari, Galan, Ilamu, Aga, Gerru, Wayyu, Salale..."
The same author concluded, "The internal war of the Tulama weakened the Galla and strengthened the power of Amhara". One of the unknown aspects of the Arsi struggle was their clear understanding of this policy of divide-and-rule as it was adopted by the Amhara at early stage and their quest for pan-solidarity beyond their social universe. Naturally, the most concerned by this pressing call were the Tulama clans who enrolled in Ras Darghe's army who ruthlessly suppressed the fierce resistance of the Salale before becoming the butcher of the South. So they called upon Salale soldiers to desert him and to fight together against their common enemy, the Amhara. But it was unlikely that this desperate call for alliance and solidarity would be accepted, partly because most of the combatants in the Shoan army used to be recruited by force from the defeated Tulama clans. In effect, the Shoan authorities forced every defeated group (clan) to raise a contingent of fighters, in the form of tribute which were used against other Oromos. Secondly, the booty from the south and the promised reward in land after the conquest might have appeared more attractive than the claim of "common descent and common culture." Likewise, Ras Gobana’s name was very popular among the Arsi who sang in his praise and asked him to stand by them instead of the Amhara by reminding him his origin. At one point they naively believed that he would arrive and rescue them. What they did not understand was that Gobana, whom they called Gobe, had already made his choice and embraced the Shoan cause. So, they were forced to count upon themselves, although some Guraghe, the Chaha under their leader known as Bachi Sabo, were said to have fought with the Arsi against Ras Darghe.
During the conquest of their country in the second quarter of the last century, the Arsi did not develop another form of political authority other than the Gadaa which functioned according to its own logic and ideals. The Gadaa, of course, was not a centralized system and there were many independent Gadaa areas. However, in spite of this apparent fragmentation, the Gadaa provided a very important pole of interaction and cohesion for the Arsi society. In effect, there was an institutional mechanism bringing these Gadaa centers together according to a fixed calendar, ideally every eight years, at Chaffe (traditional parliament and a very important laboratory of Oromo Democracy) where important decisions concerning political and cultural life were taken legislation, amendments of laws, administration of justice, etc.).
To the Chaffe, one has to add the institutional pilgrimage (Muuda) every eight years to a common religious head (priest) in Bale, Dallo, undertaken by the delegates of the outgoing Gadaa class and Gossa representatives (Jila). The Qaallu institution and its head as the guardian of tradition and values remained the symbol of their unity, identity, and peace in particular, whereas the Gadaa-Chaffe guaranteed the process of democratic representation-participation in political life and the harmonious functioning of Oromo society. Finally, the Arsi had another institutional mechanism called qitte (democratic assembly) where the members of the same Gossa or different Gossa gathered, discussed and decided by consensus on issues of common interest. For instance, during an emergency, in this case during a war, it was the qitte (assembly) which decided on the common stand of all Arsi Gossa. All this would suggest that Menelik and his predecessors faced in the Arsi a formidable and united fighting force.
Last but not least was the conception of war and the place it occupied in the social organization of Oromo society. The Oromo are said to have been warriors par excellence and the Arsi cannot be an exception. In particular, the latter were reputed to be formidable combatants and, perhaps, that was why they used to be known under the name of Waranticha (the Warriors). Bahrey himself called them Waranticha in his genealogy of the Oromo and considered them as the fifth descendant of Barentu (Eastern Oromo). The warrior nature of their society won them, therefore, the respect of their immediate neighbors including other Oromo groups like the Borana, themselves distinguished fighters.
All observers of the Oromo underlined the vigorous nature of the Oromo, and even after the dramatic transformation of their institution at the end of the last century, the warrior ideology persists until the present day. The following observation of P. Baxter could be applied every where in the Oromoland:
"Men are constantly compared to bulls and lions in praise. Conversely, to be called a bullock is the ultimate insult. To kill an enemy, lion or elephant is the aim of every young man and was formerly an essential and still is a frequent, preliminary to a respectable marriage which is the first step towards formal recognition as social adult".
This was possible partly due to the Gadaa system and partly because of the prevailing competition of prestige between Gossa and individuals in the domain of war. Except for the Qaallu who do not belong to the Gadaa system, all Oromo were organized under the Gadaa where male children were initiated, and passed through different and successive Every eight years and recruited for ritual, military and political responsibility according to their biological age and generational model (afurtama abbaa-40 years that separate the father and his son in the Gadaa cycle). In particular, before assuming politico-judicial responsibilities, the age-set between 16-24 and 24-32 were expected to distinguish themselves militarily as junior and superior warriors, respectively and transmit memorable victories to the future generations. The transition from 4th to 5th grade was marked by a grandiose ceremony in which war would become a ritual obligation for the Gadaa classes and successful warriors celebrated these rites of passage with special honors and continued to enjoy great prestige when they were in office, throughout their lives, and even after death.
The second factor which contributed to the preservation of warrior ideology was the custom of Farsa (praise) and Geerarsa (war songs). This was an institutional mechanism whereby a hero sang of his exploits and successes in public gatherings, particularly where different Gossa met. In the absence of the hero or for dead heroes (ancestors), it was the duty of their kinsmen or descendants to repeat hymns and praise in their glory:
"Through Farsa songs, eloquent heroes found their poetical expression, which set members of their tribes aflame with pride. Through these powerful songs the dead heroes of the nation were reincarnated and the living heroes were elevated to a higher plane; bravery was almost worshipped as a religion".
For example, when a member of a given Gossa repeated his Farsa (praise), a member of another Gossa had to respond by praising the achievements of his kinsmen both living or dead. Otherwise he would feel inferior in status and prestige. It is not impossible to evoke heroes from the mother's side. The Gossa with prestigious past were more respected than others and their descendants tried to maintain this reputation. Like the men, women were imbued with the warrior ideology; they sang on the occasion of different ceremonies in praise of heroes or to ridicule men reputed to be cowards.
One can say, therefore, that the objective of war among the Oromo was above all, a search for glory and fame, and the transmission of their honorable name for future generations although material gains from the war cannot be excluded. The attempt of every generation was not only to keep up the distinguished names of their ancestors, but to do better and to add a chapter to the collective memory of the Gossa. Perhaps, it is in this perspective that one can appreciate the chronology and tempos of early population movements and particularly those the 16th century, according to successive Gadaa grade.
In brief, every male child was prepared for war and confrontation with enemies when and where necessary. Nevertheless, peace remained a pervasive concept which was repeated in all rituals, including those of Gadaa and Muuda. In some cases, war was imposed whenever there was no alternative except killing and dying to protect one's dignity, freedom, family, and property. The classical example of an imposed war was the Shoan war of colonization, which this article will analyze in more detail.
GO TO PART 2
No, far from being crazy, there is a method to Meles' "madness." He and his generals are implementing a systematic and deadly strategy that makes sense, but only if you set aside the idea that Ethiopia has become a democracy and apply instead the ancient logic of empire. In the design of this war, as with many other aspects of governance Ethiopia is functioning like an empire, where a dominant ruling group maintains its power by holding subject peoples under its control. In this case, the ruling Tigray are guaranteeing their superior position by sending the Oromo and other subject peoples (who are "internal" enemies because they constantly challenge Tigray's rule) to enter into battle with Eritrea, who has become an external enemy by rejecting the over lordship of Ethiopia and establishing its own self-determination. The scheme is that these two threats to Ethiopia will eliminate each other in battle, the bloodier the better. Meles and His generals are gleeful over their success in executing this maneuver in full public view. The international audience is equally horrified and puzzled by it because they are blind to its logic. One key to understanding Ethiopia's strategy is to focus oh the composition of the infantry that Meles has so recklessly and insistently sent forth against the Eritreans every spring since 1998. The foot soldiers that are repeatedly put in harm's way are overwhelmingly from the Oromia and other non-Abyssinian peoples who resent and resist their subjugation within Ethiopia. No journalist or researcher that I know of has ever done a systematic survey of the ethnic composition of the military recruits, but through informal accounts and anecdotes it has become known to those of us who have relatives in the army that these foot soldiers are overwhelmingly (at least 80%) Oromo and southern people. Most of the Tigray are officers or given assignments which do not put them at risk. The ratios should be thoroughly investigated by any one who takes the dynamics of this region seriously. These non-Abyssinian peoples were originally brought into the empire through conquest by Abyssinia and have never achieved full citizen status. Their treatment in this war is, in fact, further evidence of their subject status.
The truth at a glance is that the Oromo never wanted Meles and his TPLF/EPRDF group to come to power in the first place. They wanted their self-determination and independence at the time that the Tigray (TPLF/EPRDF) was recognized by the United States to take over from the Dergue in 1991. Oromo nationalists were the vast majority in the country and Oromo nationalist sentiment was high. Meles saw that the Oromo posed a serious threat to the EPRDF. But ironically and fatefully, Meles allied with the Eritreans in 1991-1993 to subdue the Oromo, promising Eritrea its independence in exchange for complicity in bringing the Oromo under control.
There is no question that without the Eritrean forces, together with American and western European advisers, it would not have been possible for the TPLF to resubjugate the Oromo forces within Ethiopia during the first year when Tigray was trying to assert its dominance. But the United States and Eritrea assisted the Tigray enthusiastically in those crucial months between July 1991 and June 1992. The Oromo struggled, protested, fought and negotiated to be recognized in their own right by both Eritreans and the United States. The Eritreans chose to overlook their plight and removed themselves to sit aloof, beginning at the July Conference when the "new" arrangements for the "new" Ethiopia were made. They turned a blind and deaf ear to the Oromo, insisting upon calling them “Ethiopians” and counseling them to make the best of their situation under the TPLF. The Oromos lacked the consolidated organization to prevent Tigray over lordship from happening at the time. Tigray gladly accepted the arrangement. Having dealt with the Oromo resistance, they turned around to beat the Oromo ploughshares into swords of aggression against Eritreans.
Let us be honest. The reason the Tigray had to let the Eritreans go is that they knew that they could not hold them. Ethiopia could not fight everyone together. The Tigray, with the assistance of the West, apparently calculated that as long as Eritrea was economically linked to Ethiopia, Eritrea was not really independent. Then the Eritreans introduced their own currency, the Nakfa, which was the fullest possible expression of real independence. Ethiopia could not tolerate the implications of the move. Within a month, the two countries were at war, first verbally, and soon militarily, as hostilities broke out over a pretext, an obscure border region.
Now their aloof behavior toward the Oromo subjugation is coming back to haunt the Eritreans. Careful analysis reveals that the Eritrean interest in the long term is in fact closer to Oromo interest than it is to the Tigray. But the Eritreans have never publicly acknowledged the similarity between their position and that of the Oromo in the Horn of Africa. They have not wanted to see it. They did not let these sorts of considerations stand in the way of their progress toward independence in those early days. Eritrean alliance with the Tigray was considered to be a “natural” alliance. After all, they were cousins. They had the blood tie.
Let us look at this more closely, though. Yes, they were cousins, but they were cousins separated at birth. The Eritreans were taken from the womb of Abyssinia, which went on to become an African empire, and were given away to be raised by Italian colonists. Actually, they became slaves of the Italians while the Oromo became slaves of Ethiopia’s Abyssinians. Ethiopians eventually reached out their hands to enslave the Eritreans for themselves in 1952. Thus, the circumstances of Eritrea’s historical experience gives them more in common with peoples colonized by Abyssinians than with their Abyssinian blood kin who grew up protected and comfortable, wielding and enjoying the fruits of empire. May be Eritreans can realize that now.
It should be clear to the Eritreans and to all who take an interest in this part of the world that if the Eritreans had supported the Oromo when the Tigray came to power, 80% of the infantry would not be there in battle against them today. The Ethiopians would not have the cash available to purchase the armaments used against them, since over 60% of Ethiopia’s foreign exchange comes from Oromo coffee alone.It is important to note that the Oromo are not coming against Eritreans as Oromo. They are coming in wave after wave as Ethiopians because they are subject to Tigray’s rule, forced into the infantry and then forced to the battlefield to do the EPRDF’s bidding. This is how the Ethiopians are using the Oromo against the Eritreans and equally using the Eritreans to break the Oromo forces. The TPLF/EPRDF’s greatest long-term threat is the Oromo who still remain inside the borders of Ethiopia’s empire. The Oromo factor is an aspect of the war that most analysts miss. When the Oromo go to fight, often as minesweepers or on the front lines, the Eritreans are invited to gun them down in the thousands in self-defense. The Eritreans should be commended for the tactical retreat taken in recent days. Had they not held their fire, thousands more subject peoples would have been massacred according to the Ethiopian design. Their move should be considered an act of bravery, since the Ethiopians would have been more than happy to be rid of soldiers gunned down on both sides.
We should not forget how the war itself is an extension of an overall assault against the Oromo and all resistant peoples in their homes. It is set up to extinguish the sector of the strongest Oromo youth and to cripple those who remain in Oromia, depriving them of the manpower, eliminating their cushion against disaster, sending them into famine and making them fear what will happen if their resistance continues. The message to be sent to the Oromo is that Tigray holds all the cards and all the power.
By eliminating the Oromo threat at the front lines, Meles kills two birds in one battle. Actually, to him, it is like a cockfight. Meles would be delighted to see both fighters disable each other for life.
So, when people ask how Meles could send his own people into such incredible danger in these wars, it is clear that they do not understand his plan. Meles does not regard the foot soldiers sent to assail the Eritrean to be his “own people” at all. They are the ones who want their own self-determination. The war with Eritrea provides both the perfect excuse to snatch these young nationalists out of Oromia and parts of the south and the perfect opportunity to send them unprotected in great numbers against the Eritreans.
This formula explains a great deal, including the Ethiopians’ belligerence in the face of the United States, their increasing excitement as the battle heats up, their glee at the prospect of bigger and more “decisive” engagements, the abandon with which they send “their” troops into highly hazardous situations deep into Eritrean territory. They seem to be looking for danger. They seem to be saying. “Let the Oromo be diminished.” Ethiopia will not mourn these dead. Ethiopia will probably not even bury them. They didn’t bury them last year, except by bulldozer. Last year tens of thousands of Ethiopian foot soldiers were slaughtered at the hands of the Eritreans. Did anyone ask why the Ethiopians shrugged off this great loss in silence? More Ethiopian soldiers died during this week of May last year than Americans killed in the entire Vietnam War. At least 80% were Oromo or non-Abyssinian recruits. The west was insensible to this issue in 1999. Their attention was turned to Kosovo, which was a much smaller engagement. But the lesson was not lost on Ethiopia. They quietly accepted (if not celebrated) the loss. It is clear why. These were their political enemies lying dead across the no-man’s land. That is why there was no public breast-beating, no outrage, and no tours of the littered battlefield for journalists, no official body count. There were only plans to repeat at great cost the entire exercise, same time, same place, and this year. The current engagement seems to be orchestrated to imperil as many Oromo and Eritreans as possible.
The Eritreans and the Oromo have themselves to blame for this situation. They could have disarmed Meles, and all subsequent Ethiopian rulers who might come against them in battle, if they had formed an alliance based on the need to dismantle an oppressive empire. They had the chance and let slip away. It appears to have been a lack of consciousness on both sides, a failure to distinguish who is a friend and who is an enemy to their cause. Eritreans chose to be opportunistic and to seize upon the “uniqueness” of the Eritrean claim for independence rather than upon the common need to resolve the fundamental contradiction that lay at the heart of the crisis in the region, the reach of the Ethiopian empire.
Eritreans, Oromos and other Ethiopian colonies must see the empire dismantled before they are able to achieve peace. The Ethiopians, including Meles and anyone who might succeed him, will always use the non-Abyssinians, the people resources from conquered and annexed territories, against the Eritreans. Thus, Eritrea itself will never have peace until Ethiopia is dismantled as an empire.
Ethiopia, of course, knows this. All of its behavior demonstrates that it knows this. When Meles and Col. Gebre Kidan announce to the world “We will break the back of the enemy,” and “Our main goal is to emasculate the enemy troops,” they mean both enemies. When they refuse to accept peace proposals, saying “the war will end when all our territory has been liberated” or fighting will not stop until the enemy no longer poses a threat,” they are seeking any pretext to continue the war for the reasons I have stated above, not for the reasons that they give to the press. They know what they must do in order to stay on top. They must keep the potential allies apart. They must keep the soldiers under their control. More Oromos must be killed. Ethiopia must weaken Eritrea’s ability to function as a friend to the other subject peoples in the region. Ethiopians call their behavior “protecting their sovereignty.” Nonsense. Call it protecting their dominance, protecting their superior position, protecting their ability to use the power and the material of others for their own ends. Call it behaving just like their ancestors. Call it what you will. They are protecting empire.
This policy has broad implications. For example, people wonder what is the connection between war and famine in this country. That has a simple answer: The war brings the famine. Droughts and rain shortages happen periodically in this region. The people’s systems of production are designed to function during drought, but they require the labor force of young men, who are notably absent everywhere in Oromia and the south. The able-bodied men are taken at the height of drought, leaving women and children to shrink and starve unless they find their way to feeding centers. If the men have not already been grabbed for the war front, then they are hiding in the forests to save themselves. Ethiopia knows that if war leads to famine in both Eritrea and Oromia, it reduces the capacity of Eritrea’s progress and of Oromia’s resistance movement. For the Tigray, this comes as one of the bonuses of war. One Tigray spokesperson recently explained to the press, “War and famine have always been part of Ethiopia’s culture.” Well, the public should also know that as long as the empire is intact, this would remain to be true. That combination, however, is not part of Oromo culture.
Last week, while African diplomats were urging Meles to stop fighting and begin to negotiate and end to the war, he contemptuously refused to halt the attack declaring, “Remove the stick and the peace process vegetates. Lift the stick and the peace process begins to have some life.” It is clear that the Oromo are the stick that Meles uses to batter the Eritreans. Without the Oromo, Meles would be empty-handed. He knows it, but the rest of the world has not yet realized it. But when the Oromos and the other subject peoples in the empire are finally in charge of their own human and material resources, the stick will be gone from Meles’ hands, and from the hands of any possible successor forever.
The world must overcome. Its astonishment and dismay over Ethiopia’s battle swagger and learn a lesson from this tragic scenario. Until the Oromo and other forcibly retained peoples are free from the hold of Ethiopia to determine their own destiny and set their own course, the Ethiopians will continue to use them and their resources to make war in this region. When the Eritreans rise up from this current engagement, either defeated in this round or surviving at high cost, they must also remember this lesson. The best insurance for peaceful secure future for Eritrea lies in a peaceful, secure future for Oromia. I shall tell you a great secret my friend. Do not wait for the last judgement, it takes place every day....