Oromo Nationalism: The danger it poses for the Success of Current Reform in Ethiopia
By Teklu Molla
March 13, 2019
Last week, in his comment on the current progress of reform in the country, the prominent Ethiopian, professor Mesfin Wolde-Mariam, blew a whistle about the reversal of the current reform in Ethiopia by those who brought the change, namely: Team Lemma. This is, he added, due to their own making, not caused by forces outside their circle of influence. I decided to write this article because of the seriousness of this threat. Many Ethiopians believe that the current reform in Ethiopia is being hijacked by Oromo nationalists and political elites. Unless current Oromo power grab is challenged by all political forces, it could reverse the momentum for democratic change and the prospects for peace and stability in Ethiopia.
It is true that since the removal of TPLF from the federal government, steps have been taken by the Abiy administration to reverse some of the policies of TPLF which had effectively dominated the political, economic and social landscape in Ethiopia. Some of these changes include freeing political prisoners, fighting corruption at highest levels, allowing freedom of the press. This process of opening up of the political space caught the attention of our people like never before, and renewed hopes for transition to genuine democracy and rule of law. However, the security situation in the country seemed to be getting worse forcing many to question the ability and willingness of the current administration to take the country towards stability, peace and genuine democratization. For-example, ethnic relations is deteriorating as ethnic clashes, killings, and border tensions have continued in the west, south and northern parts of the country in a manner that have never been witnessed before.
The above situation gave rise to two competing perspectives on whether the current change is still progressing towards its initial goal of democratizing Ethiopia, or whether it has been reversed or hijacked by Oromo elites in the reform camp. As such, many citizens are asking some serious questions regarding the behavior and motives of the Oromo Democratic party which controls the Federal Government. Such questions include: Why is the federal government not willing to take measures to provide security for all citizens in the different regions of the country? Why is it not focusing on improving the security challenges through the legitimate exercise of power? Why is the federal government not willing to intervene between the Amhara and Tigray regions knowing full well that it poses great danger to stability in the region? Some wonder if this is a strategy of consolidating power during transition while ignoring direct and imminent responsibilities of the federal government mentioned above.
It is from these perspectives that I see the comments by Professor Mesfin on the current situation with some degree of seriousness. I do share his view that even intuitively many feel that the ODP is heading in the wrong direction which doesn’t take the country to democracy. Some rightfully commented that the federal government doesn’t even have a road map which leads to democracy and meaningful power sharing. What could be the biggest challenge that could jeopardize the sweeping changes the country has never seen over centuries except the misguided power grab by Oromo elites and narrow nationalists? The stupidity of ODF leaders and Oromo elites is blinding them to the fact that they were under the iron grip of the TPLF months before. They are also oblivious to the fact that they didn’t get power by force, but by crucial support from amhara and other progressive forces after 27 years of brutal TPLF rule.
It looks like the ODP and the Oromo elites who exercise strong influence on the party leadership has a strategy of pitting the Amhara and the Tigrians against each other while consolidating power in their grip at both at Federal and State levels. The dangers of Oromo domination for Ethiopia’s political democratization are vividly clear. The rhetoric of the change leaders, including the prime minister himself, about Unity of Ethiopia is just a distraction of people with a hidden agenda-projecting power over Ethiopia and advance their ultra-nationalist agenda in the country. Such domination will most likely take the country back to vicious circle of dictatorship and poverty.
What caused the current situation?
I do attribute the Oromo power grab mainly on the weaknesses of the Amhara democratic party ( ADP) whose leadership do not even have the capacity and strategy to challenge Oromo’s domination and negotiate power with them, not just for the benefit of the Amhara’s, but also for minority social groups in Ethiopia who are currently exuded from meaningful power sharing with the main player at the national stage-the Oromo democratic party and the Oromo nationalist Elites.
Warning for ODP, ADF and Other Minority Parties
I have a warning for ODP and the Oromo elites that support it. They need to know that their power grab doesn’t lead them anywhere. In fact, if such mistakes continue, not only will Ethiopians suffer from their actions, but the Oromos will definitely end up losing their power which will in turn make them worse in the end. They need to realise that we can’t afford to lose this opportunity for meaningful democracy and long-term stability. They need to be advised not waste yet another chance to do the right thing. They shouldn’t let power to corrupt them just like their predecessors. If they do, they would end up the same way as those who held the helm of power before them.
I have a warning for the Amhara leadership or ADP too. Ethiopians have let many opportunities for positive changes slip away in the past because of indifference and disagreement between progressive forces. Leaders who were unwilling or afraid to confront radical leaders, such as Mengistu Haile Mariam and Meles Zenawi, did this costly mistake. At this time, the Amhara leadership has a historic responsibility to stand up to the Oromo leadership that the consequences from a failed reform process (lost opportunity) in Ethiopia is not only unforgivable, but also very costly to the nation. The leadership of Amhara people should be aware that if they don’t take action now, they will regret it later when it is too late to do something about it. There is no doubt that the Oromo elites are buying time for their agenda, and hence they need to be confronted now rather than later. The decision of the Amhara democratic party on the Addis Ababa issue is a step in the right direction.
I have a warning for minority groups- in South, East and South of Ethiopia too. They are the ones who stand to lose the most from divided and weak Ethiopia. They too need to stand with pro-unity groups and challenge Oromo’s grab of power. They need to think that they have the part in steering the reforms in Ethiopia in the right direction.
What should all Ethiopians do?
Ethiopians need to strongly oppose any national election or population census, as that will give to the current ultra-Oromo nationalists the false legitimacy to take even more drastic measures which will alienate the people from real power sharing at the federal level. My prayer is that Oromo elites will come to their senses and will change course to ensure the unity of the country and the democratization of Ethiopia as they promised when they took power. The only viable path forward that could benefit the country is the focus on unity through democracy. Anything short of that is a dead-end and doomed to failure!!!
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.