Mekelle: 10 May 2024 (Tigray Herald)

By Koki Abesolome


Multinational federalism engrained in the current constitution is here to stay. It is not up for discussion let alone negotiation. Anyone caught in some fantasy should wake from their hallucination.
Jawar Mohammed, 2018

የሃገሪቷ እጣ ፈንታ በኛ እጅ ነው ያለው. This is our opportunity now. Yes, it is our time. እከሌ ተንጫጫ እከሌ ተቆጣ ብለን የምንሸማቀቅ ሳይሆን በኛም ወገን ይንጫጩ በሌላም ወገን ይንጫጩ ጫጫታ ሰምተን ወደኋላ የምንሸማቀቅበት ሳይሆን በሙሉ አቅም በስትራተጂ ተመርተን ወደፊት መግፋት አለብን ምክንያቱም እኛ ከተሸማቀቅን የኦሮሞ alternative ሊበላሽ ነው
Jawar Mohammed, 2020

በጣም አስጠሊ ዘግናኝ የሆነ እልቂት እየመጣ ነው:: ባለፉት አራት አመት የተሄደበት ሂደት ኢትዮጵያን ያፈራረሰ ያደከመ በህዝቦች መሃከል ያለውን ቅራኔ ወደ ጠላትነት እንዲገፋ ያደረገ እና ሃገር በከፍተኛ አደጋ ላይ የጣለ ነው። ካለንበት ችግር ውስጥ ለመውጣት ከዚህ በፊት በሄድንበት መንገድ መሄድ እንደማያዋጣ መገንዘብና ወደህዋላ መመለስ ነው።
Jawar Mohammed, 2023

We must be careful not to take ethnicity as the alpha and omega of politics. We need to move away from romanticizing or downplaying ethnicity. Instead, we should try to find a realistic middle ground.
Jawar Mohammed, 2024

Jawar Mohammed’s transformation from the master peddler of conflict-driven tribal politics to a preacher of reconciliation and peace is a welcomed development. The fact that his transformation is not an isolated case is also an encouraging development. Ezekiel Gabissa, one of the firebrand Oromo tribalists, is also going through a similar political metamorphosis.

More importantly, in a recent interview, Bethlehem Tafesse of the Betty Show revealed that in private meetings Oromo intellectuals admit that the current system is not sustainable, but they are not admitting it in public, fearing retribution and ostracization from extremist forces.

What Jawar, Ezekiel and people like them lack is moral culpability that demands contrition and self-absolution. The path for contrition and self-absolution starts with honesty and requires conjuring an antivenom elixir to free the Oromo body politics from the poisons of Oromummaa – the master ideology of the Oromo tribal political doctrine.

Some Oromos, such as Professor Mirgissa Kaba and Girma Gutema, insist that Oromummaa is “a fundamental concept of being Oromo or Oromoness [and] the mark of an Oromo organic identity.” But Asafa Jalata, the Godfather and inspirational figure of Oromummaa, makes it clear that Oromummaa goes beyond culture and identity. It is a “political project.” It is undeniable that Oromummaa as a concept of Oromoness has been abducted and adulterated into a doctrine of tribal extremism.

Oromummaa as it stands today has no resemblance to the culture or identity of the people of Oromo. One cannot continue to embrace the adulterated political ideology of Oromummaa and at the same time talk about peace.

As the leading activist of the Oromummaa ideology, Jawar is responsible for opening a new chapter in the Oromo political theology, declaring that he valued his Oromoness over his belief in Islam. He made this clear when a conference participant asked him: “Are You First Oromo or Muslim.” He responded without missing a beat: “I am an Oromo First.” 

True, putting tribalism above religion was advocated in Asafa Jalata’s books and articles years before Jawar uttered the phrase “I am an Oromo First.” However, his profound influence over the social media made his statement a popular slogan among the restive Oromo youth – the true believers and foot soldiers of Oromo extremism.

People die for their religion. But they kill for their tribe. Jawar was the commander who turned the Oromo youth into an extremist colony by elevating tribalism above religion. This was a watershed point in Oromo politics.

Anyone who has spent a day reading the Holy Quran knows that Jawar’s statement was a blatant violation of the core tenets of Islam. In Hadiths Prophet Muhammad Racism Tribalism Arabism and Islam, Sheikh Abdullah Ibn Kathir referred to Sunan ibn Mājah 3949 to highlight Prophet Mohammed’s statement on the ills of tribalism as follows:

“I asked: O Messenger of Allah, is it part of tribalism that a man loves his people?” The Prophet said: “No, rather it is tribalism that he supports his people in wrongdoing.”

Jawar’s “I am an Oromo First” political creed was not the slip of the tongue. It was (and continues to be) the essence of recent Oromo political theology that imposes Oromummaa as the overriding cultural identity of extremist Oromos.  In contrast, when it comes to cultural identity, the term the Quran uses is Ummah. The term is a faith-based identity, transcending tribal, racial, and class designations.

In “The Concept of Oromummaa and Identity Formation in Contemporary Oromo Society,” Asafa Jalata states: “As the ideology of the Oromo national movement, Oromummaa enables the Oromo to retrieve their cultural memories.” 

Two important questions arise. The first question is “What cultural memories are Oromos retrieving?” They are Gadaa and Waaqeffanna. Gadaa is a 16th century governance practice, encompassing the Oromo community’s political, social, and military ecosystem. Waaqeffanna is an Oromo traditional religion followed by only 3.3 percent of the Oromo population.

The second and more important question is: “From whom are they retrieving such cultural heritages and tribal identities?”  According to Asafa Jalata, the answer revolves around two targets.

• Externally imposed cultural and religious identities. More specifically, from Islam and Christianity whom Asafa calls colonialist institutions.

• Led by Ethio-Amhara colonialists, Ethiopianism ideology that has been imposed on the Oromo via physical coercion, including terrorism, mental genocide, and other political and cultural mechanisms…

It is Asafa Jalata who brewed the Oromummaa poison, but it is Jawar who injected it in the blood stream of the Oromo body politics with two powerful precepts: “I am an Oromo First” and “Ethiopia Out of Oromia.” Just like Marxism without Lenin would have been no more than an academic fancy of a philosopher and political theorist, Oromummaa without Jawar would have been an obsession of a disenchanted Oromo sociologist living in the diaspora.

Oromummaa’s Vision and Mission

Oromummaa’s vision is the birth of an Oromummaa nation. Its mission is two pronged: (1) to clean up the cultural and religious influences of Islam and Christianity as colonialist institutions, and (2) defeat the concept of Ethiopianism and Amhara as its champion.

This is shared by Oromo scholars (Asafa Jalata), activists (Jawar Mohammed) and the government of Oromo (Shimelis Abdissa). Shimelis is on the record, stating that the influence of Islam and Christianity are inimical to the Oromummaa cultural identity. 

He started with declaring that Islamic and Christian names are undermining the Oromummaa doctrine. Oromos who are named after Prophet Mohammed or the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, are considered as offense against the Oromo liberation theology. This has led many Oromos to abandon such names as Yohannes and Musa and take tribal names.

The demolition of hundreds of Churches and Mosques is part of the Oromummaa campaign. Anti-Christian forces parade Orthodox Christian priests on the streets of Oromo cities with dead black chicken hanging on his neck. Police officers slap priests and beat up imams in public, They kill religious leaders, and throw teargas at Orthodox Christians while they pray and sing hymns of praise to God. This is done not only in Oromo-Shene controlled regions, but in major Oromo cities under the watchful eyes of the Oromo government.

As a Political Ideology Oromummaa is Anchored in Hate

Oromummaa’s political manifesto is built not on the merits of its ideals and creeds but on an adversarial narrative against Ethiopia as a nation and the Amhara as a tribal group. The following are just a few examples.

• “The Ethiopian colonial terrorism and genocide that started during the last decades of the 19th century still continue in the 21st century.” 

• “Emperor Menelik massacred half of the Oromo population (5 million out of 10 million) and their leadership during its colonial expansion.” 

• “Emperor Menelik controlled slave trade (an estimated 25,000 slaves per year in the 1880s); with his wife he owned 70,000 enslaved Africans; he became one of the richest capitalists.”

• “Amhara supremacy and that glorifies the genocide that occurred against Oromo communities in Annole, Chalanqo, and other parts. Ethio-Amhara colonialists devastated these communities and others by cutting the breasts of thousands of women and the hands of the men who survived Abyssinian colonial terrorism and genocidal massacre.”  

Such claims are disgraceful fabrications and the source of all evils in the womb of Oromummaa. For example, the allegation of genocidal massacre of 5 million Oromos by Emperor Menelik who was in power between 1889-1913 is not only morally corrupt but also ridiculous.

In 1900, the estimate for Ethiopia’s total population ranged from 4 million (Brilliant Maps) to 10.7 million (Central Statistical Agency). The Oromo accounts for 30% to 35% of the Ethiopian population, depending on which official Ethiopian population census one considers. The average is 33%. This puts the entire Oromo population in 1900 between 1.3 million and 3.5, averaging 2.4 million. 

The UN, the most authoritative source for international population census, does not have an estimate for Ethiopia for 1990. The earliest estimate it has is for 1950, which is 18 million. That puts the Oromo population in 1950 about 5.4 million. This is consistent with the 1.3 million figure for 1900. The fabricated massacre of 5 million Oromos amounts to nearly four times the entire population of Oromo at the time.

Furthermore, there is no recorded history of the cutting of the breasts of thousands of women. The evidence for Oromummaa’s claim is a 1999 book titled “የቡርቃ ዝምታ – የታሪካዊ ልብ ወለድ ድርሰት” (The Silence of Burqa: A Fictional History Essay) written by a Tigryan journalist (Tesfaye Gebreab) in furtherance of TPLF’s divide and rule strategy. Oromummaa intellectuals adopted Tesfaye Gebreab’s fiction as a real story and built a statue of a mutilated breast as one of the historical landmarks of the Oromo tribal land. 

After the TPLF was dethroned, some Oromos started to speak up. For example, On April 21, 2019, Addisu Arega (the current head of the Prosperity Party’s Public and International Relations Office) gave a speech on the topic. He stated: “Time and resources were spent [by TPLF] to create intractable conflict between Amhara and Oromo. Tesfaye Gebreab’s book is one example.” 

Here is his statement verbatim. “አማራ እና ኦሮሞን የማይታረቁ እና አብረው መኖር የማይችሉ ለማስመሰል ገንዘብ ተበጅቶ ብዙ ስራ ሲሰራ ነበር። ከዛ ውስጥ አንዱ በተስፋዬ ገብረአብ የተፃፈው የቡርቃ ዝምታ መፅሃፍ አንዱ ነው።“

At the time, Addisu was the head of Oromo Democratic Party (ODP) Central Committee Office. Soon after, he faced a coordinated attack from Oromo extremists and was forced to apologize, attributing his statement to his “ignorance, youth, and lack of experience.” 

Addisu was not the only Oromo who accused TPLF of concocting the Anolee story. Merera Gudina, the chair of the most prominent Oromo opposition party shares his opinion. Speaking of the TPLF Merera said: “They build industries in Tigray. For us Oromos they build us a statue, symbolizing a mutilated breast” (እነሱ መቀሌ ላይ ትልልቅ ኢንዱስትሪዎችን ይገነባሉ ለኛ ግን የተቆረጠ ጡት የሚያሳይ ሃውልት ይሰሩልናል). 

The Oromummaa problem is not restricted to its moral depravity in basing its political narrative in institutional lies. Its defining characteristics are its bloodletting political culture and lack of moral culpability of humanity.

For the sake of pushing the discussion further let us switch off our moral compass and accept all the Oromummaa false claims about breast cutting and Oromo genocide on face value. 

Over the last year and some, I have written six articles on Oromummaa. I made sure that all my references were limited to published books and articles authored by Oromummaa advocates and foreign writers. In fact, I extensively referred to three individuals: Mohammed Hasen, Asafa Jalata, and Jawar Mohammed. I deliberately avoided referring to Ethiopianist writers including those with the Oromo heritage. 

I started my articles with Mohammed Hasen’s book that acknowledges “Oromos assimilated more than they were assimilated by others.” The Oromummaa narrative uses the Amharic term መጨፍለቅ for assimilation. The translation of Mohammed Hasen’s statement is “ሌሎች እኛን ከጨፈለቁን ይልቅ እኛ ሌሎችን የጨፈለቅነው ይበልጣል.” This is in reference to the number of people forcefully assimilated by Oromos. 

Asafa goes further to state that the Oromo assimilation was enforced by Oromo warriors during the Mogassa invasion and was “inspired by political, military, and economic considerations.” 

In his 530-pages long documentary titled “The Oromo Ethiopia, 1500-1850,” Mohammed documented the Oromo conquest. He took note that the Gadaa conquest entailed complete assimilation, requiring the vanquished to stop using their language and adopt Oromo language; disavow their religion, culture and tradition and embrace the Oromo religion, culture, and tradition; and even disavow their genealogical heritage and use Oromo genealogical heritage. Those who refused to retroactively Oromize their body, spirit, soul, and genealogy were wiped out of existence in a bloodshed.  

Let us hear what Mohammed Hassan says about the savagery committed by Oromo Mogassa warriors. 

• Mogassa warriors are the devils who attack in the evening… They fought with frenzied determination that astonished the elite of the Christian and Muslim states and terrorized the populace… 

• When new areas were attacked, the men were killed, and animals were captured. Probably the killing was intended to spread terror among the resisting population while the taking of cattle booty was to enrich themselves… 

• Most of the conquered people who had earlier submitted with little or no resistance, found that they were no longer equal members of a clan within which they were incorporated, but slaves who were used as gifts and commodities for sale… Enslaving the vanquished people was an economic as well as military necessity… 

• What all this tells us is that, while the frontier of the Christian kingdom was shrinking, a new nation was being formed out of its debris.

Mohammed Hasen’s narrative confirms earlier accounts by foreigners. In the 1924 issue of the Journal of the Royal African Society, Vol.23, No. 90, C. F. Rey wrote: 

“[The Oromo] methods of warfare were cruel even for that age, and it was they who introduced the horrible practice mutilating the dead, and even the wounded and prisoners.”

Pedro Paez described Gadaa warriors as follows. 

“The Oromo slaughtered many people and carried out extraordinary cruelties, because they cut to pieces the men and many of the boys and girls that they seized, and they opened up pregnant women with their spearheads and pulled the babies out of their wombs.” 

Why then are Oromummaa intellectuals condemning forced assimilation of Oromos by Amhara without acknowledging forced assimilation of Amharas and others by Oromos. Why are they lamenting about Amhara atrocities when in fact Oromo atrocities are just as bad if not worse? 

Another blatant Oromummaa false claim is that Oromo’s culture and religion (Gadaa and Waaqeffanna) were suppressed, during Menilik assimilation invasion. This was an utter lie. Gadaa was all but dead two to three centuries before Menilik’s soldiers put a foot on Oromo soil. 

According to Professor Endalkachew Lelisa Duressa, an Oromo historian, “Due to the geographical expansion of the Oromo territory and an increasing population, the central Gadaa government declined beginning in the mid-17th century and autonomous regional and local republics took its place.”

This is echoed by Asafa Jalata: “The nonfederal nature of the Gadaa System, lack of Strong Central government, lack of regular meeting of Gadaa official and long distance of Gumii (assembly) from political center made Gadaa system less Competent”.

Furthermore, the failure of Waaqeffanna to take roots in the Oromo tribal land has nothing to do with Menilik’s conquest at the end of the 19th century and the dawn of 20th century. Menilik is Christian. So were the overwhelming majority of his soldiers.

Oromos adopted Islam beginning the 16th century. Islam’s early expansion into the Oromo region allowed it to be the majority religion. Protestants were in the Oromo tribal land before Menilik became the King of Ethiopia. German missionaries were the first to introduce Protestantism on the Oromo soil.   Nonetheless, Oromummaa intellectuals are obsessed with Amharas.

In general, very little is known about Waaqeffanna. In a two-segment interview on the LTV Show (here and here), Dr. Gemechu Megersa the loudest advocate of Waaqeffanna failed to give details about it. The interviewer asked him four times if Waaqeffanna has a Holy Book, institutional framework equivalent to Churches or Mosques, bishops and priests or religious practices such as lenting and fasting. 

Dr. Megersa dodged the question four times. Finally, because of the persistence of the interviewer he acknowledged Waaqeffanna does not have institutions. He claimed this was because followers of the religion were not allowed to have religious institutions by successive Ethiopian governments. This was, of course, a shameful lie. Waaqeffanna was around for over 400 years before non-Oromo governments ruled the Oromo tribal land. 

Professor Tesema Ta’a, one of the leading Oromummaa intellectuals, brough to light a research work that documented: “The Whites, the Arabs and the Abyssinians [Ethiopians], each one has a book given to them by God. In the beginning Waaqa also gave the Oromo a book but a cow swallowed it. Waaqa got angry and did not give them a second book.” 

Knowing that their narratives are based on fabricated lies, Oromummaa intellectuals avoid public debates. The Kush Media Network (one of the two popular Oromo medias) and የሃሳብ ገበታ tried tirelessly to get anyone from the Oromummaa camp to appear with me on their shows to defend their narratives and refute my articles. No one was willing to appear. They know their narratives are indefensible. They also know it is hard to refute my articles because most of my references were drawn from their writings and public statements. Their refusal shows cowardice and lack of moral culpability. 

In Conclusion 

Rather than producing opinion leaders and nation builders, Oromummaa ended up engendering evangelists of conflict, who pit tribes against each other. The moral decadence of the intellectual class is being manifested in the inhuman cruelty of their foot soldiers and true believers. Today, the Oromo tribal land is all but an ungovernable Hobbesian jungle. 

Millions are forcefully displaced in rampant ethnic cleansing campaigns. Innocent people are hanged upside down and pelted to death with rocks. The bellies of pregnant women are slit, and their unborn children are snatched out and thrown (see here and here). Defenseless children and elders are hacked to death by machetes.  Through it all, the Oromo intellectual class is in radio silence. 

The inhuman murder of Bate Urgessa whose body was left on a pile of trash where hyenas are known to scavenge at night was an exclamation mark that the Oromummaa culture of cruelty is coming back to hunt Oromos like a boomerang. In a sardonic twist of irony, the Oromummaa colony is finding itself not only as a perpetrator of tribalism but also as a victim of it. 

Self-preservation is forcing Oromummaa intellectuals to face the reality. Their change of mind is welcome no matter what is driving it. The first critical challenge they face is freeing the Oromo youth from the poisons of Oromummaa. This requires a healthy amount of honesty, brevity and moral culpability.

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