The Oromo People and Oromia – brief


The main purpose of this summary is to briefly introduce the Oromo people, their land, culture, civilization, history and the like. It is also to illustrate the experiences of the Oromo nation under Abyssinian colonial rule as well as the struggle they went through for liberation, democracy, economic and social justice.

1. Land

The country of the Oromo is called Biyya-Oromo/Orom-biyyaa (Oromo country) or Oromia (also phonetically spelled as Oromiyaa). Biyyo in Oromo literally means soil. Consequently biyya Oromo means Oromo soil. Oromia is a name adopted by the Oromo Liberation Front to the land inhabited by the Oromo people. A German missionary named Krapf in 1860 also used the term Ormania to designate the nation or the country of the Oromo people.

The present nominal state of Oromia includes the regions of Arsi, Bale, Borana, Gujii, Harargee, Ilu-Abbaabora, Jimmaa, Shewa, Wallo, Wambera and Wellega. The metropolitan centers such as the capital, Finfinne (proselytized Addis Ababa), Dire Dawa, Adama (also proselytized Nazareth), Ambo, Jimma, Nekemte and Robee are found in Oromia. An estimated area of Oromia before colonization towards the end of 19th century was nearly 600,000 square kilometers, larger than France, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands combined. The present Ethiopian government reduced the size of Oromia to an estimated area of 360,000 by incorporating many parts of it into neighboring regional states.

Oromia is approximately located between 2 degree and 12 degree N and between 34 degree and 44 degree E in modern empire state of Ethiopia. It is bordered in the East by Somali and Afar lands, in the west by Gambela, Benishangul and the Sudan, in the South by Somalia, Kenya and several nations and nationalities and in the North by Agawu, Amhara and Tigre land. That means it almost dissects the empire of Ethiopia south-north and east-west. Out of the 53 or so African countries it is exceeded in size only by 17 countries.

a) Landscape and the Climate

The physical geography and climate of Oromia is quite diverse. Its landscape includes high and rugged mountain ranges, undulating plateaus, panoramic gorges and deep incised river valleys, and rolling plains. Rising from less than 500 meters above sea level to high ranges that culminate into Mt. Baatu (4607 m), the highest peak of the region. Among the many mountain ranges are the Baatu in Baale (4607 m), Karra in Arsi (4340 m), Enkelo in Arsi (4300 m), Gara Mul’ataa in Hararghe (3392m) and Baddaa Roggee in Shawa (3350 m), Tullu Walal in Wellega. High relief of over 1500m is dominant in Oromia.

Oromia is endowed with varied relief features which in turn accentuate varied and amicable climatic condition and other rich natural resource bases.? The climate prevailing in Oromia may be grouped into 3 major categories: the dry climate, tropical rainy climate and temperate rainy climate. The dry climate is a little portion characterized by poor sparse vegetation with annual mean temperature of 27 degree C to 39 degree C, and mean annual rainfall of less than 450 mm. The semi-arid climate mean annual temperature varies between 18 degree C and 27 degree C. It has a mean annual rainfall of 410-820 mm with noticeable variability from year to year. Highlands of Oromia experience temperate climate of moderate temperature, (mean temperature of the coolest month is less than 18 degree C) and ample precipitation (1200-2000 mm).

Similarly, there are many rivers and lakes in Oromia. Many of the rivers flow westwards into either the Blue Nile or the White Nile, and others flow eastwards to Somalia and Afar land. Among the large rivers are the Abbayya (the Nile), Baro, Sor, Gaba, Birbir, Hawas (Awash), Gannaalee, Waabee, Dhidheessa, Gibe, Guder, Dabbus and Finca?a. ?Overall, Oromia contributes about 70% of the water of the Nile Rivers. It is worth noting however that the negative impacts of the anti-environment policy of the current regime is felt everywhere.

For the peoples of Egypt, the Sudan and Somalia, life would be impossible without these rivers. They carry millions of tons of rich soil to Egypt, the Sudan and Somalia every year. Somalia depends heavily on Waabee (Shaballe) and the Gannaalee (Juba) rivers which come from Oromia. At present the Ethiopian government depends heavily on Oromia rivers of Gibe, Hawas (Awash) and Finca?a water as a source of electric power for its industries and irrigation to grow sugar cane, cotton and fruits. There is even great potential in all these rivers for the production of electric power and for irrigation.? Awash, Gibe, Finca?a, Sor and Gaba are ?sources of great hydroelectric power for the? Ethiopian state.

Among Oromian lakes are the crater lakes Green lake (true to its name), Bishoftu, Kuriftu, Bishoftu-Gudo, Hora-Kilole, Hora Arsedi, and the rift-valley lakes Ziway, Abiyata, Abayya, Shala, and Langano. Many of these lakes possess a great variety of fish and birds on their islands and shores. They have immense potential for recreation and fishery development.

The climate is as varied as the physical geography, although close to the equator because of the mountain ranges, high altitudes and vegetation, the climate is very mild and favorable for habitation. Snow can be found on the mountains such as Baatu and Karra. In the medium altitudes (1800-2500 m) the climate is very mild throughout the year and one of the best. Up to 80 per cent of the population lives at this altitude and agriculture flourishes. The great majority of the Oromo population settled on the plateau and open grassland because they are horsemen. They often chose open land for their cavalry i.e. horse fighting.? They avoided the jungle, mountainous areas and river basins for horse factor and diseases as well as economic factor. The Oromo were predominantly pastoral society.

The low altitude areas (below 1500 m) in west, south and central part are relatively warm and humid with lush tropical vegetation, and although few live there permanently most graze their cattle and tend their beehives there.

The vegetation of Oromia ranges from savanna grassland and tropical forest to alpine vegetation on the mountain tops. The forests contain a variety of excellent and valuable timbers. Oromia is known for its unique native vegetation as well as for being, the centre of diversity for many different species of food crops. The forests of Oromia are a source of excellent timber. Although the major portion of the forest has been destroyed since the occupation, some still remain in the south-east and south-west. However, this is threatened by mismanagement, particularly through the fast expanding land grabbing and rent to international investors by the current government of Ethiopia. ?At the time of colonization over 70 percent of Oromia was covered with forest. This has been reduced to the present 2 per cent. In addition to timber trees, medicinal plants and trees producing different kinds of gums, grow in abundance. Myrrh, frankincense and gum Arabic are gathered from the wild trees.


2. The Oromo People

a) Origin

A brief look at the early history of some of the peoples who have occupied north-eastern Africa sheds some light on the origin of the Oromos.? The Oromo belongs to the Eastern Cushitic language subfamily which in turn belongs to the Afro Asiatic super family that occupied most parts of northeastern Africa. The Cushitic speakers have inhabited north-eastern and eastern Africa for as long as recorded history. The land of Cush, Nubia or the ancient Ethiopia in middle and lower Nile is the home of the Cushitic peoples. According to recorded evidence the Cushitic family separated into different linguistic and cultural groups called Northern Cush, Middle Cush, Southern Cush and Eastern Cush at around 5,000 BC. The Eastern Cushitic family in turn gradually separated into different branches between 3500 and 2000 BC. Accordingly the Oromo national group came into existence as a linguistic and cultural group or as an entity beginning from 3500 BC. The Oromo is one of the Cushitic groups which spread southwards and then east and west occupying large part of the Horn of Africa. Their physical features, culture, language and other evidences unequivocally point to the fact that they are indigenous to this part of Africa. Available information clearly indicates that the Oromo existed as a community of people for thousands of years in East Africa (Prouty at al, 1981). Bates (1979) contends, “The Gallas (Oromo) were a very ancient race, the indigenous stock, perhaps, on which most other peoples in this part of eastern Africa have been grafted”.

According to Perham (1948): “the emigrant Semites landed in a continent of which the North-East appears to have been inhabited by the eastern groups of Hamites, often called Kushites, who also include the Gallas” (Oromos). Paulitschke (1889) also indicated that Oromo were in East Africa during the Aksumite period. As recorded by Greenfield (1965), Oromo reject the view that they were late arrivals, ?? old men amongst the Azebu and Rayya Galla dismiss talks of their being comparative newcomers. Their own (Abyssinians) oral history and legends attest to the fact that Oromo have been living in Rayya for a long time.? ?Beke (cited by Pankhurst, 1985-86) quoted the following Lasta legend: ?Menilek, the son of Solomon, ? entered Abyssinia from the East, beyond the country of the Rayya or Azebo Gallas (Oromos). There are also evidence (Greenfield et al, 1980) that at least by the ninth and tenth centuries there were Oromo communities around Shawa (Central Oromia) and by about the14thcentury settlements were reported around Lake Tana. The recent discovery, (Lynch and Robbins, 1978), in northern Kenya of the pillars that Oromo used in the invention of their calendar system, dated by carbon date around 300 B.C. is another indication that Oromo have a long history of presence as a community of people in northeastern part of Africa.

Different areas have been mentioned as place where the Oromo developed or differentiated into its own unique community of people or ethnic group (Braukamper, 1980). According to some ethnologists and historians, the Oromo country of origin was the south-eastern part of Oromia, in the fertile valley of Madda Walaabu in the present Baale region. This conclusion was reached mainly on the basis of some Oromo oral traditions. Bruce, an English traveler in the 17th century indicated that Sennar in the Sudan was the Oromo country of origin and that they expanded from there.

There are several Cushitic peoples in East Africa very closely related to the Oromo. For instance, the Somalis are very similar in appearance and culture. The fact that the Somali and Oromo languages share between 30 percent and 40 percent of their vocabulary could be an indication that these two groups of people became differentiated very recently. Other Cushitic-speaking groups living in the same neighborhood who are closely related to the Oromo are Konso, Afar, Sidama, Kambata, Gedeo, Agaw, Saho, Baja and other groups. Konso and the Oromo people share more than 50% of common vocabulary.

In older literature and in fact until quite recently, the Oromos were referred to as ?Galla?, a term with negative connotation that was given by Abyssinian ruling families. One may encounter this name in older texts, here and there but it should be noted that it is a pejorative and derogatory name.? Historically, some people among the northern Amharic community used the label ?Galla? derogatorily to label the Oromos. However, it should be known that the Oromo people neither call themselves nor like to be called by this name. The term seems to be aimed at destroying the identity of the Oromo people

The ancient Oromo settlement extends deep into present day Gojam, Gondar and Tigrai in northern Ethiopia. Even in recent history the Oromo were living in Gojam and Gonder as early as the seventeen century. But the Habasha clergy and rulers intentionally hide these facts or label these periods “the era of the princess” as the dark ages of their history. It is a fact that some of the Oromo population was absorbed by Amharic and Tigrinya speaking peoples. That such a process did take place is strongly suggested by the fact that Oromo personal names that frequently appear in genealogical reckoning of Amharic and Tigrinya speaking population. The Oromo also assimilated many of its neighboring populations. In this process it is believed that the Oromo developed into a veritable cultural corridor. It opened up extensive cultural exchange between societies which would have otherwise remained isolated and atomistic (Gada, Asmerom Legese 1973)

b) Demography

Before colonization, in around 1870, the Oromo numbered about 10 million. During the process of colonization, between 1870 and 1900, the Oromo population was drastically reduced from ten to five millions (Addis Hiwot). After colonization by emperor Menilk of Abyssinia, the emperor and his successors continued to reduce the Oromo population systematically. Many were killed in mass and thrown into graveyards by the colonial settlers and their army. Others died of famine during the so called Great Famine (1888-1892) and epidemics of various diseases, some intentionally spread among the Oromo population as a means to force them into submission. A significant number of the Oromo population was also sold off as slaves. The Oromo speaking people?s settlements extend in the south as far as the Great Lakes as Rwanda and Burundi in east Africa. Today the great portion of the Oromo people lives in the Ethiopian Empire.

The Oromo make up a significant portion of the population that inhabits the Horn of Africa. It is a single largest ethnic group in the empire state of Ethiopia.? In fact the Oromo ethnic group rates second among the African indigenous peoples next to Hausa of Nigeria. It is the third largest language group in Africa, after Arabic and Hausa. As a nation out of the 53 or so nations of Africa only four have larger population than Oromia.

The 2007 Census conducted by the Central Statistical Agency of Ethiopia (CSA), with all? pressures and limitations imposed by the? minority Tigray dominated government, shows that? Oromia has a total population of over 28 million. Actually the Oromo nearly make up over 40 million out of the present 85 or so million population of the Ethiopian Empire. About 90% of the Oromo people live in rural areas where as a few live in the urban centers. The major urban centers of Oromia are Finfinne, Adama, Jimma, Dire Dawa, Chiro, Asala, Awasa, Shashamane, Bishoftu, Nekemte, Mettu, Ambo, Robe, Waliso, Fiche, Ghimbi, Dembi- Dollo and others. In some of urban centers of Oromia such as Finfinne the majority of the populations still appear to be Abyssinian settlers from the north.


3. The Economy

Potentially, Oromia is one of the richest countries in Africa. Agriculture is the backbone of its economy. Still employing archaic methods, subsistence agriculture is the means of livelihood for more than 85 % of the population. There are a variety of farm animals and crop plants. Farm animals include cattle, sheep, goats, donkeys, mules, horses, camels and chicken. The Cushitic speaking communities of this region are credited with the domestication of donkey and were the first to breed mules, (a result of a cross between a donkey and a mare). The Oromo are expert in animal husbandry through their long tradition as herdsmen. For some, cattle-rearing (pastorals) is still the main occupation.

Varieties of important crops exist naturally in Oromia. These diverse crop plants are valuable natural resources. By virtue of relatively abundant rainfall, suitable soils and other agricultural potentialities, Oromia remains the major crop producing region in the Empire. Accordingly, Oromia has approximately accounted for 60% of major food crops production in Ethiopia.

The main cash crops are coffee and chat (a stimulant shrub). Coffee, a major cash earner for many countries, has its origin in the forests of Oromia -Jimma region. Specifically, Kafa and Limmu are considered centers of origin for coffee. It is from here that coffee spread to other parts of the world. Coffee was one of the export items of Oromia before colonization. In the west Oromia exported coffee to the Sudan through the inland port of Gambelia on the Baro river and border towns of Kurmuk, Gissan, Kuburi etc. In the east Hararge region of Oromia has been producing one of the finest coffees for export. Coffee has remained the major export item, representing more than 60 per cent for the total foreign earnings of successive Ethiopian colonial regimes. Oromia accounted for 77.6% of coffee plantation at the turning of the 21st?century and delivered annually about 68% of coffee production for foreign market. And Oromia accounts nearly for 85% out of the total coffee export of Ethiopia. Similarly, out of 53 districts known for Coffee production in the Empire 42 (79%) are found in Oromia showing the tremendous resource base the region is endowed with.

Crops like anchote (root crop), okra, etc. are also indigenous to Oromia.? Because of Oromia?s favorable climate and rich soil, many types of crops are cultivated and normally there is little need for irrigation. Normally one and sometimes two crops can be harvested annually from the same field. Among the major food crops are cereals (wheat, barley, tef, sorghum, corn, millet, etc.); fiber crops (cotton); root crops (potato, sweet potato, yam, inset, anchote, etc.); pulses include (peas, beans, chick-peas, lentils, etc.); oil crops (oil crops, flax, etc.); fruits (orange, mango, avocado, banana, lemon, pineapple, peach, etc.) and spices (onion, garlic, coriander, ginger, etc). Oromia is also rich in wild animals.

There are around 800 bird species and more than 100 wild animal species in Oromia. Endemic wild animals such as the mountain Nyala, the Semen Red Fox and Bushbuck inhabit the Bale mountain?s Dinsho national park.

The Awash and Dinsho Parks of Oromia consists of most of the East African plain games that are homes to the Oryx, Kudu, Caracal, Aardvark, Columbus Monkey, buffalo, Giraffe, Green Monkeys, Baboons, Leopard, Klipspringer, Hippo, Semarang?s Gazelle, Gravy?s Zebra and Cheetah. They are also? sanctuary for numerous bird-species, including Limburger, Wattle Crane, Angur Buzzard, Verreaux Eagle and long eared owls. Water Fowls, Shore Birds and the colorful Ruddy Shelled Duck as well as the endemic Blue-winged Goose are common in the marshy areas of the parks.?These are a source of attraction for tourists and natural scientists alike.

Oromia has also important mineral deposits. Huge gold deposits at Laga Dambi and Shakiso in south Oromia are being extracted by the private company of? Muhammad Al Amudi. The campony extract over 6000 tons of gold annually from the sites. The TPLF investment ?companies do have shares in the gold mining industry with Medrok Ethiopia of Mohammed Al Amoudi. The platinum mining at Adola in Yubdo, the gold mine at Nejjo, ?Birbir river valley in western Oromia are ?the major sources of revenue for the central government. Other important minerals found in Oromia are sulphur, iron-ore (around Ghimbi, western Oromia), silver and salt (in south east Oromia) and marble at Daleti in western Oromia.

As early as 1900 Menilik granted concessions to a Swiss company to mine gold, silver and other minerals in Nejjo, western Oromia. Later the Germans took over. English, Russian and Italian companies extracted gold and platinum at Yubdo and neighboring areas in the same region. It is known that large deposits of natural gas and oil exist in Baale and Hararge regions. The Ethiopian government announced in 1986 the discovery of a new deposit of natural gas in Baale.

The hundreds of hot springs scattered over Oromia are also of economic importance. Thousands of people, including foreigners, visit these springs for their medicinal and recreational value.They are a great potential source of thermal energy. Rivers, streams and springs are plentiful. The rivers have many falls that could be used to generate electric power with little effort. The extent of this electric power could easily satisfy the power needs of Oromia and several neighboring countries.

Today almost all economic sectors in Oromia are monopolized by TPLF investment companies and by few other private companies having economic and political links with the government.


4. Culture

a) Social Life and Oromo Values

The Oromo people have a rich culture and common values. Before colonization they have developed various kinds of skills such as wood and metal works, weaving, pottery and tannery. Oromo have an extraordinarily rich heritage of proverbs, stories, songs and riddles. The various customs pertaining to marriage, paternity, dress, etc. have elaborate descriptions. The Oromo society as a nation is united through various shared values. Among others Gada democracy,? egalitarianism, respect for the liberty and dignity of the individuals, commitment to the rule of law are the most important features of Oromo society. The men and women descended from a common ancestor constitute a corporate group, in that they share many collective heritage, values, rights and obligations. The society has considerable influence on the life and behavior of the individual members. Individual privileges, rights, obligations/duties/ and social identity are all imbedded in the society.

b) Language

The Oromo language (afaanOromoo) belongs to the Eastern Cushitic group of languages. ?Taking into consideration the number of speakers and the geographic area it covers, Afaan Oromoo, rates second among the African indigenous languages next the Hausa group of Nigeria. ?It is the third most widely spoken language in Africa, after Arabic and Hausa. Now days it is the mother tongue of about 40 million Oromo people living in the Ethiopian empire and neighboring countries such as Kenya and Somalia. ?Perhaps more than three million people bordering Oromia speak Afaan Oromo as a second language. In fact Afaan Oromo is said to have been a lingua franca in the Ethiopian Empire. It is a language spoken in common by several members of many of the nationalities, who are neighbors of Oromia. Besides, there are approximately three million non-Oromo, mostly individuals from Amhara origin who live in Oromia and speak Afaan Oromo.

Afaan Oromo has been not only completely neglected under the Abyssinian rule but ruthlessly suppressed for almost a century and half with a determined effort to destroy and replace it with the Amharic language. However, it has been mostly ineffectual. Thus, the Amharization and the destruction of the Oromo national identity have partially failed.

A number of Oromo scholars in the past attempted to discover scripts suitable for writing Afaan Oromo. Several Oromo political, cultural groups and linguists have strongly advocated the use of the Roman script with the necessary modifications. The Roman script is relatively best suited for transcription of Afaan Oromoo. It has thus been adopted by the Oromo Liberation Front close to 40 years ago. Today Afan Oromo is a written and spoken language of millions of people.

c) Oromo Calendar

The Oromo conception of time and history is rich. The Oromo schedule their lives, their rituals, their political ceremonies or transitions, etc to a very high degree. Oromo calendar is a well developed system of time reckoning? or precise calendar. Oromo calendar is not simple solar calendar but has lunar-stellar foundation. The Oromo type of astronomic calendar has only been recorded in three cultures in the history of mankind. These are the Chinese, Hindu and Mayan calendars.

The Oromo astronomic calendar is a permutation calendar based on observations of the moon in conjunction with a group of seven stars or constellations. This is called Urji Dhaa (guided by stars). The lunar month is about 29.5 days long. The ? year? consists of twelve such months or 354 days, eleven days shorter than the solar year. The Oromo do not add intercalary month? to make the year? a solar year.

The twelve lunar months have the following names Amajjii, Gurandhaala, Bitootessa,? Caamsaa, Ebla, Waxabajjii, Adoolessa, Hagayya, Fulbaana, Onkoloolessa, Sadaasa, Mudde. There are no weeks instead each day of the month has a name. The Oromo traditionally had no use for names of the days of a week. Perhaps it is because of this that today in different parts of Oromia different names are in use for the days of a week. However, there are only 27 names of days for the 29.5 days of lunar month. The days are called Ayyaanas (Legesse, 1973 and Bassi, 1988). The following are the names of the ayyanas; Innika, Lumaasa, Gidaadaa, Ruudaa, Areri, Areri Lammaffaa, Aduula, Aduula Lammaffaa, Garbaa, Garba Deettii, Bitaa, Sorsa, Algajima, Arba, Walla, Basaa dura, Basaa Lammaafaa, Carawaa, Dureettii, Salbaan, Salban Deettii, Dullatti, Gardaaduma, Buusaa, Bal?oo,? Qaraa fi Rurruma. These 27 days of the month go through the twelve months of the year and complete the cycle of 29.5 in one lunar year. The beginning of each month successively precedes by approximately 2.5 days, the difference between the 29.5 day month(lunar) and the 27-day(categorical), (Legesse, 1973). The first day of a month is the day the new moon appears.

The Oromo time reckoning experts are called Ayyantu. Each of the 27 days (ayyaana) give? special meaning and connotation to these Oromo time-keeping experts. The Ayyaantu can tell the day, the month, the year, time of political ritual events from their memory. If their memory fail, they examine the relative position of the moon and the stars to determine the day month astronomically (Leggese 1973).

The seven stars or constellations the Ayantus use are: Lami (beta Triangulium), Busan (Pleiads) Bakkalcha (Aldebaran), Algajima (Bllatrix), Arba-gadu (Central cluster of Orion) Urji-walla (Sirius). These seven stars are roughly lined up along a diagonal of Orion tirapezoid. The Ayyantu on the basis of astronomical observations, do make an adjustment in the day name every two or three months.

The Archeo-Astronomic Discoveries at archeological site in northeastern Kenya called Namoratunga, by the researchers, Lynch and Robbins in 1978 has also suggested that the Oromo had invented astronomic calendar before 300 BC. According to Lynch and Robbins, Namoratunga, a megalithic site in northeastern Kenya has an alignment of 19 basalt pillars that are directed toward certain stars and constellation which the Eastern Cushitic people used to calculate an accurate calendar. The pillars have been suggested to represent a site used to develop the Oromo astronomic calendar.

The Oromo have also used Gada Chronology for time reckoning. The Oromo are skillful and logically coherent in their oral history. They calculate how and when the Gada classes succeed?? each other. They follow the strategy of counting the succession of Gadaa classes? horizontally? for cross tabulation of the last Gada class. And they use vertical reckoning strategy to indicate the link to one?s descendant. This strategy or rule suggests that one? ancestor Gada class returns to the same given name after 36 Gada periods (8?36) or seven generations (7?40) or on the beginning of eighth generation. Remember that one generation according to the Gada system of the Oromo is forty years which is divided by eight years and segmented into five. There is a formula called ?Dachi? that defines the method in which one historical event are said to repeat itself. It may be transmitted from genealogical ancestors to the descendants. For the Oromo history is defined not as a stream of events but as the cyclic relationship between events, the relevant historic presidents. That is ? they deal with the active part of the Gada chronology.

d) Religion

The Oromos, have a strong and well-defined system of belief or worldview characterized by its respect? of all virtues (such as kindness, honesty, integrity, truth, equality, brotherhood, peace and justice) as opposed to all vices. Monotheistic in nature, the belief is known for its glorification of God or Waqa Who is considered as immortal, everlasting and the sole and ultimate creator of man and the entire universe. The religion preaches that all men are created equal and that they deserve equal treatment in many aspects of life and in the protection of basic human rights. It gives special importance to social harmony and peaceful coexistence. The Oromo believe in only one Waqa (God). They did worship false gods or carved statues as substitutes.? The Oromo Waqa is one and the same for all. He is the creator of everything, source of all life, omnipresent, infinite, and incomprehensible, he can do and undo anything; he is pure, intolerant of injustice, crime, sin and all falsehood.

In traditional Oromo religion there is a religious institution called a Qallu. Qallu is also the name given to the spiritual leader of the institution. He is like a Bishop in the Christian world and an Imam in the Muslim world. A Qallu is? the most senior person of the society. The Oromo describe the Qallu as Makkala, means messengers of God. As opposed to the egalitarian democratic system of the Oromo society the authority of the Qallu is divine origin, and hereditary.

In Oromo religion is distinctly separated from politics. The domain of Qallu is purely the domain of sacred and peaceful. Whereas the Gada leaders are charged with legal and political activities the Qallu are charged only with ritual and spiritual affairs. There is a clear functional differentiation between the sacred and the profane. The Qallu institution and traditional Oromo religion were weakened with the advent of colonialism and outside religions.The Abyssinian? conquerors? interfered in the religious affairs of the Oromo and weakened it. They adopted? policies to discourage and destroy Oromo cultural institutions and values.

The Oromo have a number of religious holidays such as Irreecha (thanksgiving festival) which takes place once in a year in river meadows.

In its later history, the Oromo people have been in constant contact with other religions like Islam and Christianity for the last 1000 years or so. For instance, the Islamic religion was reported to have been in eastern Shawa about 900 A.D. and Christianity even before that.

Today the majority of the Oromo people are followers of Islam and Christianity, while the remaining are still followers of the traditional religion, Waqeffannaa. The Oromo who are followers of Islam or Christianity yet still practice the mode of experiences of their traditional religion. Bartels (1983) expressed this reality as follows: ?Whether they (Oromo) became Christians or Muslims, the Oromo?s traditional modes of experiencing the divine have continued almost unaffected, in spite of the fact that several rituals and social institutions in which it was expressed, have been very diminished or apparently submerged in new ritual?. In fact adherence to traditional practices and rituals is still common among many Oromo people regardless of their different religious background.

There has not been threat of religious fanaticism or fundamentalism in Oromo population. The cultural affinity and ethnic identity among the Oromo did not allow such development. Thus there is a great deal of tolerance among the different religions in the Oromo society. It was the Oromo who stopped the protracted wars between the Abyssinian Christian kingdom of the north and Muslim kingdoms of the Somali and Afar from the south that went on for centuries during Medieval Abyssinia. The Oromo created a buffer zone between the two in the 16th?century, and stopped the religious wars once and for all.


5. Oromia Under Occupation – the Colonization of Oromia

The Oromo were colonized during the last quarter of the nineteenth century by a black African nation ? Abyssinia ? with the help of the European colonial powers of the day. During the same period, of course, the Somalis, Kenyans, Sudanese and others were colonized by European powers. The fact that the Oromo were colonized by black African nation makes their case quite different. The military balance of the Oromo was fundamentally reversed during the scramble for Africa when their adversaries, the Abyssinian acquired large number of firearms from the European powers. In late 1880s when the Abyssinian army was invading the Oromo country and the Southern peoples the number of Abyssinian soldiers bearing firearms was estimated to six hundred thousand(600, 000). Once the army was built upto such massive proportion it become powerful machinery for Abyssinian empire building.

Despite the great advantage that the Abyssininan army gained through the use of modern weapons, they still faced much resistance from the Oromo and other Cushitic peoples. The Oromo were able to stop the advance of Abyssinian army equipped with European arms and military advisors, even though temporarily, by raising a large number of age- regiments (Chibras) and fought a protracted defensive wars in Arsi, Tulama, Hararge, Wellega, Ilu Abbabor and other regions of Oromia. Until they were outweighed by the fire power of the Abyssinians in late 19th?century the? Oromo warriors and, in particular Oromo cavalries demonstrated? again? and again that they were capable of showing the same kind of military efficacy and versatility as their ancestors in the 16th?century.

After colonization, the emperors of Abyssinia and their successors? continued to treat Oromo with utmost cruelty. Many were killed by the colonial army and settlers, others died of famine and epidemics of various diseases or were sold off as slaves. Those who remained on the land were reduced to the status called? gabbar ( crude form of serfdom).

In all spheres of life, discrimination, subjugation, repression and exploitation of all forms were applied to Oromo population. Everything possible was done to destroy Oromo identity ? culture, language, custom, tradition, name and origin.

a)  Conquest by Menelik II (1889-1913)

There is a gross lack of knowledge about the real history of Ethiopia among the international community in general and Africans in particular. Briefings materials on Ethiopia for diplomats and other foreign dignitaries still contain the myth of the 3000-year-old ?independent Ethiopia.? It is disappointing to hear sophisticated diplomats and journalists talking about Ethiopia that has been independent for 3000 years. In reality such Ethiopia does not exist. The historic ?Ethiopia?, the land of Kush, is not at all the same as the present Ethiopian empire. The Abyssinian clergy and rulers appropriated the name of ancient Ethiopia and claimed its history as well. To this moment, the rest of the world is being cleverly misled and astonishingly accepted the myth as real.

The Ethiopian empire is ethnically heterogeneous, comprising more than 80 nations and/or ethnic groups of 83 languages and 200 dialects spoken by its over 80 million people in a land of 1 million Sq. Km. The Oromo, Amhara, Tigrayan and Somali are the largest ethnic groups respectively.

As some like to call it, Ethiopia’s modern period (1900 to present) is represented by the reigns of Menelik II, Haile-Selassie I, by the Marxist regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam; and, since mid-1991 up to 2012 by Meles Zenawi a Tigrayan like Emperor Yonnes IV. Each has been characterized by political suppression and political isolation of the Oromo nation and other ethnic groups. Political pluralism has never been the history of the Ethiopian empire, which is true for all empire states too. In fact the whole history of the Ethiopian empire is characterized by warfare, famine, forced dislocation of people and lack of democratic culture.

The present Ethiopia is an empire state. The empire state consists of the core Abyssinian state, which was first founded by the Tigrayans under Yohannes IV and then consolidated over centuries by the two national groups of Abyssinia?Amhara and Tigrayans. Emperor Menelik II of the Amhara national group was the creator of present day Ethiopia. First- as a vassal king under emperor Yohannes IV of Tigray, and later on as an emperor, Menelik conquered the Oromo and other non-Abyssinian peoples during the era of ?scramble for Africa?. In conquering and incorporating these peoples? territories, he transformed the core state of his ancestors into an empire state, increasing its size by two-thirds. After the accession of Menelik II to the throne in 1889, the ruling class consisted primarily of the Amhara and since 1991 the Tigrayans. The Oromo, who constitute over 40 percent of the population are politically marginalized.

The Abyssinians rejected their identity with any black people. They appropriated the name ?Ethiopia? and gave it to their empire to claim legitimacy based on antiquity and divine authority of biblical proportion.?[The term Ethiopia is derived from the Greek word ?Aithiops?, meaning the land of the people of the ?burned-faces? or simply the country of the blacks.? The name applied to a region, also referred to as the land of Kush, and not to a country or states until the time the Abyssinian kings and clergy appropriated the name Ethiopia].?At the same time, the idea of Abyssinia as a Christian outpost and that the Abyssinians ?have a much higher form of intelligence than do the purely Negro peoples of Africa? was strong among the colonial powers. Euro-Americans accepted Abyssinians as ?honorary? whites.

Menelik enjoyed advisory and arms assistances from the European colonial powers. He accomplished his colonial conquest by heavily investing in contemporary European weapons in a region where spear reigned. He was heavily engaged in the slave trade to earn cash to pay for European modern arms. Thus, contrary to the common belief that Ethiopia is a symbol of freedom for blacks everywhere, Menelik?s reign was featured with a large-scale slave trade. He also acquired advisers skilled in military science from European powers.? He employed the strategy of divide-and-conquer to mobilize one ethno-national against another. It is a fact that Menelik built the Ethiopian empire with unparalleled brutality against the indigenous African peoples. He reduced the size of the Oromo population from ten to five million. Ethiopia has taken an active part in the slave trade like any colonial force. So, the attempt to symbolize Ethiopia as the only non-colonized African nation and hence symbol for the African pride is an overt denial of recorded history.

Menelik and his successors, once they defeated the Oromo people, targeted their national integrity by employing the strategy of divide and rule. Hereditary leaders were promoted from among the subjugated peoples to serve as intermediaries between the myriad members of the colonial administration. The colonizers consisted of warlords and militia known as ?naftenyas?, and the clergy all of whom were organized into decentralized feudal hierarchies subsisting on levies, slaves, and personal servitude of the subjugated peoples. Slave trade, feudal levies and personal servitude of the peoples provided good life for the conquerors.

It is a historical fact that the subjugated peoples suffered devastation of genocidal magnitude. The Oromos and other peoples were subjugated to slavery by Abyssinians. Sadly, European powers that were Menelik?s partners condoned the atrocities perpetrated against the Oromo and other victims of genocide. The major powers of the time were interested in opening up the region for trade and the Abyssinian emperor was considered as a partner in the ?mission of civilizing pagans and barbarians.?

An Italian spokesman to the League of Nation in 1935 had the following to say:-“Modern Ethiopia consisted of a ruling minority, holding down by cruel repression the colonies which it had conquered within the last forty years. Flourishing lands had been laid waste, peaceful tribes [sic] had been enslaved and almost exterminated. To liberate these oppressed colonies was a duty of civilization” (Walter 1960: 643).

b) Under the Emperor Haile-Selassie (1913-1974)

Emperor Haile-Selassie consolidated Menelik?s empire by utilizing the art of modern state machinery. With encouragement and technical assistance of foreign patrons, he introduced laws that institutionalized violence against the subject peoples. Modern civil administrations and military were put in place. He maintained absolute power over the subjugated peoples of the empire. He was pressured to gradually abolish personal servitude and slavery; but he compensated the colonists for lost feudal rights and privileges. Menelik gave the colonists, by law, property rights over land originally confiscated by Menelik himself from the colonized peoples. He introduced a modern educational system to produce manpower for the state apparatus as well as to serve as an instrument of cultural genocide against the subjugated peoples. He intensively and systematically promoted Abyssinian history, language, culture, and values to the detriment of the colonized peoples

Unfortunately for the subjugated peoples, the Haile Selassie regime?s cultural genocide disguised under the euphemism ?social engineering,? was accorded all-round enthusiastic support by the regime?s foreign allies. In the world then divided into Western and Eastern blocs, the Western powers used the emperor?s regime to contain the expansion of communism in Africa. In return, these powers assisted the Emperor to organize a strong intelligence system as well as build and maintain the strongest military forces in sub-Sahara black Africa to guard him against resistance of oppressed peoples.

While members of the royal family, the nobility, and high ranking public officials and their cronies enjoyed life of luxury under Haile Selassie, the country suffered from economic stagnation and periodic natural disasters. Liberation struggles by the oppressed peoples, disillusionments among the Abyssinian elites, dissatisfaction by intellectuals in general about the performance of the empire, particularly poor performance of the economy compared to those of newly independent African states, brought the downfall of the emperor?s regime.

c) Under Mengistu Hailemariam (1974-1991)

The Dergue, a military junta led by a group of Abyssinian inner core, came to power (1974-1991) after Emperor Haile Selassie?s fall. Discouraged by the lack of support from Western powers and by the intellectual pressure from members of the intelligentsia, the new regime adopted a radical ideology. Thus, to minimize counter offensive from supporters of the deposed regime, in desperate effort to stave off liberation movements that were gathering momentum, and to save the empire from disintegration by general upheaval, the military junta joined the eastern bloc by embracing the so called socialism.

To avert uprising by peasant farmers, it introduced a fundamental land-reform program and promised to address the ?national question? through a Leninist model. A program of ?national democratic revolution? was introduced and the principle of national self-determination was declared. The program promised the rights of each nation and nationality to develop its own language and culture. However, the Amhara military clique that formed the core of the Dergue gradually transformed itself into a tightly-controlled, repressive totalitarian party with the support of the Amhara elite. The party took monopoly of state-power and dictated socio-economic policies. It took ownership of enterprises in all economic sectors. In short, the regime established its total control over the population?s political, economic, and social life.

The Dergue regime, like its predecessor, built and maintained huge military and security forces. As soon as it consolidated its power, the Dergue regime abrogated the ?nationality question? declarations and began to label any advocacy of national rights as ?narrow nationalism.? It took unprecedented action against thousands of reform-minded intellectuals and eliminated them as ?bourgeois elements.? As an answer to the ?national question?, instead of adopting self-determination, it introduced a heinous scheme called ?resettlement.? Under this scheme over a million settlers were forcibly transferred from the north to the south. This action was underpinned by a political motive and security considerations to change the demographic composition of the non-Abyssinian oppressed peoples of the south. The program had no objective of improving the economic wellbeing of the multitudes of the destitute people of northern Ethiopia.

In a somewhat similar scheme, the Dergue uprooted some ten million people of the rural south and moved them into ?strategic hamlets? under a policy of ?villagization.? This scheme had? double-pronged objectives of resource control and surveillance of liberation forces.

The Dergue maintained huge military and security forces. It used these forces to suppress resistance by the Oromo and other oppressed peoples, who were opposed to its continuation of national oppression under autocratic Amhara regimes. Political repression, wars of liberation, natural disaster, distorted economic policy, and mismanagement of resources was the causes for human sufferings during the ?Leninist? Dergue rule. The combination of liberation forces gaining strength and the disintegration of the Eastern bloc, particularly the breakdown of the Soviet Union, which maintained it in power ushered in its collapse.

d) TPLF/EPRDF as Successor to the Empire State (1991- present)

Despite the fact the Eritrean People?s Liberation Font (EPLF), TPLF and OLF were the major liberation movements that toppled the Dergue regime in 1991, foreign supporters promoted the TPLF, also known as Wayanne, alone to fill the power vacuum created by the fall of the Dergue regime. This led to the replacement of the Amhara regime by a Tigrayan power after one century as was evident to those familiar with the Ethiopian political landscape. With the full approval of the US government, the TPLF marched into the Ethiopian capital in May 1991 and exclusively formed an interim administration.

The TPLF needed a transitional period to consolidate its power. Faithful to the political culture of its predecessors, the TPLF targeted the national integrity of the Oromo people by creating an Oromo surrogate organization known as the Oromo People?s Democratic Organization (OPDO). After it made sure that it dominated the government, the TPLF signed a transitional charter of July 1991 that recognized in its Article 2 that ?nations, nationalities, and peoples? in Ethiopia have the right to self-determination including independence. The preamble of the charter used an oxymoron to describe the beginning of a Tigrayan era of subjugation and oppression as ?the end of an era of subjugation and oppression in Ethiopia. The charter served as a camouflage for the TPLF hidden agenda of domination. The TPLF initially posed as having accepted the US condition: No democracy, no assistance. However, that pose was a false posturing. In fact, it was simply a springboard to state power. As was proven later, the TPLF had no genuine desire to democratize the country. What it needed was a transitional period to consolidate its minority power in a multinational society.

Under the pretext of opening the country for world markets as well as assist democratization and structural adjustment, traditional patrons of the Ethiopian empire used the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) to pump substantial amounts of money into the coffer of the TPLF. Under the code name of rehabilitation and development, during the last 18 years, the TPLF regime received billions of dollars in multilateral and bilateral assistance. The bilateral and multilateral assistances were used to dismantle the Amhara-centric state-apparatus and replace it with more tightly controlled Tigrayan ethnic controlled institutions. Today, there is no public institution, be it the military, the judiciary, the civil service, the regulatory agencies, and financial institutions outside the control of the TPLF and its surrogate parties.

The regime cannot claim democratic legitimacy when it is suppressing political competition, and preventing meaningful participation in the political process. Professor Christopher Clapham of the University of Lancaster wrote this in a book titled the Ethiopian 2000 Elections, published by the Norwegian Institute of Human Rights: To those accustomed to the uninflected authoritarianism that has been Ethiopia’s fate in the past, it may well seem remarkable that [the Ethiopian 2000 elections] could have taken place at all. To those accustomed to states even in Africa, with better established traditions of electoral democracy, they will fall so far short of the standard required as to amount to little more than a travesty.

The May 2005 parliamentary election was a ploy designed to influence the international community.? In the hope of appearing democratic the regime opened the political field, even though with great reluctance and delay, to opposition parties. Much evidence leading to the elections suggest that the regime was not genuine about it. Particularly in Oromia, the Human Right Watch May 10, 2005 report explicitly indicated that the political atmosphere there was repressive and no democratic election could be held. Credible international observers including two groups from the USA, International Republican Institute and National Endowment for Democracy were expelled from the country, several opposition leaders particularly in rural areas were imprisoned and/or killed, the state owned media was one-sided, and the OLF was debarred. Generally, the population of the country showed their unequivocal disapproval of Tigrayan rule by massively voting for any group except the TPLF/EPRDF.

However, the regime manipulated the vote and the people came out in large numbers in pro-democracy demonstration to show their disapproval of the regime’s actions. The regime brought in a special force, Agazi, mainly comprised of individuals of Tigrayan origin and killed over 193 and wounded several hundred peaceful demonstrators, as ascertained by the “Truth Commission” created by the regime itself. Unfortunately some US supplied military materiel including Humvee vehicles were used to suppress the peaceful demonstrators demanding their legitimate rights.

Local-level elections in April 2008 provided a stark illustration of the extent to which the government has successfully crippled organized opposition of any kind. In this election, the ruling party and its affiliates won more than 99 percent of all constituencies, and the vast majority of seats were uncontested. TPLF and company won 3.6 million seats, as compared to three for the opposition groups. Today, the limited opening of political space that preceded Ethiopia?s 2005 elections has been completely reversed.

In desperation to hang-on to power, the TPLF has become ever more tyrannical in its rule. The regime, in space of one year, has presented three draconian laws, for approval to its rubber stamp parliament. They are the Media Law, Charities and Societies law and Anti-terrorism bill. Against the outcry of national and international NGOs and human organization, these laws have been approved now. These laws impede freedom of expression and association and they are meant to be used as a legal weapon to harass, intimidate, jail, exile and kill particularly members of the opposing groups and their sympathizers. The TPLF government believes that these laws will give it an absolute power to rule over Ethiopia ad infinitum.

The TPLF social base is the people of Tigray who constitute about 6% of the total population of Ethiopia. That base is fractured by the serious rift that has surfaced within the rank of the leadership of the party a few years ago. As a result armed resistance is going on in Tigray region. In addition, the surrogate political groups created by the TPLF do not have legitimacy even among the constituencies they claim to represent. With lack of democratic legitimacy, the TPLF regime is compelled to use brutal force to perpetuate its political power.

The institution of violence built and controlled by the TPLF regime with the assistance of unwitting major world powers and international financial institutions is mobilized to effectively destabilize the Horn of Africa through wars it wages against Somalia and Eritrea. The TPLF regime also destabilizes Ethiopia itself through its internal wars against peoples? uprisings.

Perfecting the political culture of divide and rule pursued by its progenitors, the TPLF/EPRDF regime is using government institutions to incite one group of people against the other. The fact that Oromia shares borders with almost all peoples in Ethiopia, makes the Oromo people vulnerable victims of the strategy. Constant attempts are being made by the regime, with some success, to create conflict between the Oromo and Amhara, Somali, Gedeo, Benishangul, Gambela, Afar, Gurage, Kambata and others. This act has denied the Oromo and other peoples the right to live together in peace and security.

The Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD), a regional organization of eastern African countries established to promote development and security, has also been used as a launching pad for the Ethiopian government?s security agenda. When IGAD mandated that the Ethiopian prime minister use his good offices to resolve the problems in Somalia, he went about setting-up a client regime. Finally in December 2006 the regime invaded Somalia, a sovereign nation, under the pretext of supporting the regime and hunting down the so-called terrorist groups.

The Ethio-Eritrean war between 1998 and 2000 and the Somalia invasion from 2006 to present demonstrate another international dimension of the problem of autocratic rule in Ethiopia. The TPLF regime has embarked upon external adventures to divert attention from its internal problems and to win legitimacy as a protector of Ethiopian sovereignty. Its absolute power allows it to undertake adventures of war without any accountability. It is not only a matter of an evil intention by one faction or another within the TPLF, but it is a matter of absence of institutional mechanism to ensure accountability in the exercise of state power in the country.

Instead of uniting multi-ethnic Ethiopia, the TPLF leadership has antagonized them. In addition to dominating the economy, Tigrayans have a complete control of the armed forces and security. The institution of violence built and controlled by the TPLF regime with the assistance of unwitting major world powers and international financial institutions is mobilized to effectively destabilize the Horn of Africa through wars it wages against Somalia and Eritrea. The TPLF regime also destabilizes Ethiopia itself through its internal wars against peoples uprisings.


6. The Struggle of the Oromo People

The fundamental political objective of the Oromo people is to exercise their inalienable right to national self determination to liberate themselves from a century of oppression and exploitation, and to form, where possible, a political union with other nations on the basis of equality, respect for mutual interests and the principle of voluntary associations. The struggle of the Oromo people, then, is nothing more than an attempt to affirm their own place in history. It seeks equality, human dignity, democracy, freedom and peace. It is not directed against the masses of a particular nation or nationality, nor against individuals, but rather against Ethiopian colonialism led by the Abyssinian ruling class

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