Why Not Greater Oromia Instead of Ethiopia? A Response to Dr. Fikre Tolassa's Open Letter
I read an open letter written by Dr. Fikre Tolassa directed to Dr. Beyan Asoba of the ODF [Oromo Democratic Front] and also saw the different responses from few Oromo nationalists – including the one written by Dr. Beyan himself. It is really an interesting discussion. I couldn’t manage to ignore this discussion and to refrain from airing my own opinion in public for I used to write on such either pseudo- or true histories of the Oromo, the other Cushites and the Abyssinians now living in Ethiopia. Let me express my view regarding Dr. Fikre’s open letter. I don’t belong to those who totally dismiss his view, but I do have certain concerns and a criticism in some areas of his writing.
As I first heard Dr. Fikre speaking and as I read his opinions, my reaction was: “here is a modern neo-Debtera carrying an Oromo name, and propagating the same old fictions and legends of the Abyssinians.” I think he was also a bit like this at the beginning. For instance, he used to write that the Oromo are who “expanded in the sixteenth century towards north and occupied Amhara territories”:
“… The Amhara were not lucky enough to live in peace. Shortly after the Islamic wars were over, they engaged in a war with their other countrymen, the Oromo, who had started expanding into their territories in the 1520s when the Amhara were busy with their Muslim brothers. Compared with the Tigre, the Amhara lived in the most fertile regions of Ethiopia. Initially, the different Oromo tribes fought the Amhara wherever they happened to be, looking for ideal grazing lands for their cattle….”
Thanks to the Oromo liberation struggle, now he is writing that the Oromo were/are the indigenous people in this part of the globe and many Abyssinian scholars have unwillingly started to entertain this fact. We need to congratulate Dr. Fikre for his change of mind and for being ready to learn from new facts he has ever got. I am not a historian and can not falsify or verify his current narration about the history of the Oromo, but I can say one thing. His new version of the Oromo history is better than what the old Abyssinian Debtera’s used to write. They tried to denigrate the Oromo and regarded this great nation as an alien to the North-East African region, whereas he glorifies and confirms that the Oromo nation is the backbone of the region.
When it comes to the genealogy he tries to tell us, I don’t want to say it is a fable, but I would like to recommend Oromo scholars with conscious mind of Oromo nationalism to engage him, find out the fact and try to consider his perspective in writing Oromo history from an Oromo point of view. As I could understand from one of his hitherto opinions, his information is based on one discovery of a very old literature in Nubia. He once wrote: “… This information is based on on my reading of Ethiopian history and Metsehafe Djan Shewa, (an ancient Ethiopian manuscript in Geez discovered by Meri Ras Aman Belay, in the ruins of an Ethiopian church in Nubia, a part of the Ethiopian Empire) which has been, translated into Amharic, abridged and published as Metsehafe Subae by the discoverer himself… ” (http://fikretolossa.com/FILES_ARCHIVE/M
According to this finding, the genealogy speaks more for the Cushites, to which the Oromo is the main stalk and from which the other Cushitic nations of the region seem to be differentiated. The name Amara was derived from Mara (an Oromo term), “one of the sons of Deshet.” A-Mara means, according to his assertion, children of Mara. I think the logic behind this derivation is, if we take the genealogy at face value, that Amara are the children of one of the Oromo (Cushite). This assertion supports the claim of some historians that the Abyssinians are the self-denying Cushites whose priori identity could be either Agaw, Oromo or other Cushitic nations. I think it is better to say that Agaw and Oromo were brothers, and the Abyssinians are the converted Cushites, who in due time changed their identity by accepting the system of both Aristocracy and Theocracy, and claimed to be from Semitic origin, just to distance themselves from the common people.
Coming to the appeals, which Dr. Fikre directed towards Dr. Beyan, it seems that Dr. Fikre lacks a necessary sensitivity regarding the Oromo national liberation struggle of the last more than 150 years. Disregarding whether the Abyssinians and the Oromians are biologically related or not, the fact on the ground tells us that the Abyssinian elites were and still are the enemies of the Oromo people because of the crimes they used to do and are still doing. Whatever name we give to the oppression (colony, domination, exploitation, dictatorship, empire-building and -keeping, tyranny, fascism…etc), the Oromo people are in a bitter struggle to get back our freedom by any means. Dr. Fikre seems to have a sympathy towards keeping the empire at any cost, instead of addressing the Oromo grievance. To this end, he tries to instrumentalize his knowledge of history, be it pseudo- or true history.
This attitude of him is well reflected in the three demands he made: change of the alphabet used in writing Afaan Oromo from Latin to Saba; persuading Oromo to strive further in order to keep unity of “greater Ethiopia” by abandoning a “little Oromia;” wishing the Oromo to love the current Ethiopian flag; and asking the Oromo to accept Ethiopian identity rather than being proud of their Oromo identity. These demands actually faced furious resistance from almost all Oromo nationalists who had read his open letter. They perceived his opinion as a mischief calculated from the Abyssinian camp to weaken the Oromo national liberation struggle and to possibly reverse the victories achieved up to now.
Unfortunate to Dr. Fikre and those who do have the same stand like him, the Oromo struggle has reached at the very irreversible stage. Using the Latin alphabet has got not only linguistic value, but also political meaning. Simply put, it is one of the the ways used to distance the Oromo national identity from that of the oppressors. Also a flag has got both emotional and political dimension. One can not love the symbol of an enemy at any battlefield. Most of Oromo nationalists, who fought and struggled against the Abyssinian empire, had to fight against forces carrying this flag. That is why it is wrong to expect Oromo nationalists to love and wear the Ethiopian flag as Dr. Fikre seems to do.
Regarding “little Oromia vs. greater Ethiopia” he mentioned, I would like to recommend Dr. Fikre and all who love the empire to rename the country they want to save as Oromia. When we look at the version of history he wrote, the whole empire can be called Oromia. Just as the city they called Addis is our Finfinne, the country they named Ethiopia is our Oromia. Because of the fact that the name Ethiopia is contaminated by the meaning given from the Greeks (burnt-face, which is almost the same to the N-word used against blacks) and by the content given from the Abyssinians (making Ethiopia equivalent to Abyssinian empire’s system of domination, excluding as well as exploiting the Oromo and the other nations), this change of the name is mandatory, if we really want to live together. That is why I asked in the title of this opinion: why not you accept greater Oromia, rather than asking the Oromo to join you in loving immiye Ethiopia? Surprisingly, the Abyssinian elites who tried to exclude the Oromo from the Ethiopian identity are now doing everything under the sun in order to persuade us to accept this same identity. The response of Dr. Beyan regarding this attempt is very precise and to the point:
“… I want to make one thing perfectly clear to you and your likes. The days when Oromos had to endure self-abnegation are over and shall never return. We have rejected the Itophiyawinnet that is the antithesis of being an Oromo and shall continue to do so as long as this antithetical relationship is maintained. The choice is yours and your likes’. You either accept us with our identity and other rights fully respected or you kiss goodbye to your much vaunted Itophiyawinnet and Ethiopian unity. Can you not see that there is something immoral in trying to build Ethiopian unity on graves of Oromos, Sidamas, Walayitas, Kambatas, Hadiyas, etc .? Why do you refuse to recognize that this aspiration is ultimately counterproductive? I only hope that this irrational, immoral and ultimately destructive aspiration would give way to a more sober and fair articulation of an Ethiopian identity that is as an amalgam of the identities of the various nations inhabiting its territorial space… “
Simply put, I want to tell Dr. Fikre and the others, who do have a similar attitude that the future of the empire will only be either to be transformed in to a genuine union/true federation as the ODF planned, the union which can be given the name “greater Oromia” if you agree or you will just face the inevitable emergence of the “little Oromia” in a form of an independent republic as the OLF is trying to achieve. Both you, the Abyssinians, and we, the Oromians, know very well that Oromia, being occupied by Abyssinia and kept within Ethiopia, will not last as long as you want. That is why we need to come to our senses and try to find a solution, in which we all do have a win-win compromise. Manipulating histories and legends is not what we have to do now. Important is a future-oriented creative thinking, which can benefit all the nations in the empire. All the anti-Woyane forces (the pro-independence forces like the OLF, the pro-federation forces like the ODF and the pro-unity forces like the UDJ) ought to come together unconditionally and deal with the fact on the ground, instead of the ongoing day-dreaming about any sort of past legend or future utopia.
Last, but not least, whatever our history is, there will be no compromise on the destiny of the Oromo nation. All nations in the empire do deserve an imperative freedom of their people and an optional independence of their land (based on the public verdict of the respective nations). The Oromo, as a nation, does have two alternatives after achieving the national liberation by our bitter struggle: either to have free Oromia within a union of nations in the region or free Oromia within the United Nations (UN). I think Dr. Fikre and all the pro-unity forces need to realize this fact. As far as I am concerned, free “little Oromia” within a local union as planned by the ODF is only a temporary solution leading towards the free Oromia within the UN as envisioned by the OLF. For the Abyssinians to save the unity of the country forever, they have to approach the Oromo nation with a better idea than an independent “little Oromia.” That better idea can only be a transformation of the present Ethiopian empire to a future union of free nations called “greater Oromia,” of course, with Afaan Oromo as the primary working language of the union and a flag of the union with Mo’aa Odaa, instead of Mo’aa Ambahsa or Mo’aa Anbessa, at its center. May Rabbi/Waaqa help you, the Abyssinians, and us, the Oromians, to accept this reality!