By Gobena Jaleta
Like the other Ethiopian elites, Oromo elites are no different regarding power-seeking. It is part of human nature to desire power and to have it more. In recent Ethiopian history, the military took power by taking advantage of the gap that was created by the youth movement that rebelled against Emperor Haileselassie in the 1960s. The TPLFites, the elites mostly from Tigray, aspired for power and managed to capture state power by capitalizing on the weakness of the Derg regime (dictator, harsh to its own people, and against the West). It is also called the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) regime. The current PP-led government took power by taking advantage of the struggle created mainly by the youth (Qerro, Fano, …) and the Ethiopian Diaspora. This PP-led government, like its predecessor, is dominated by one ethnicity. TPLF-led govt, the Adewa elites; to be more precise, the Adewa-Aksum-Shire dominated EPRDF regime. Oromo elites with common background dominate the current PP-led government: most of them were members of the Oromo Peoples’ Democratic Organization (OPDO) (TPLF’s junior partner and make up for the Oromia region). These elites are from different parts of the vast Oromia region.
Capturing state power is one thing; making it work and last is another. The question now is whether the PP power grab will be sustainable. Can it last for some time? How? Given that only one ethnic elite dominating the country is proven to be an unsustainable model for a country of over 85 ethnic groups, how can the current power grabbers make it at least for some time? This is the one and main question that is puzzling these people. This article does not discuss the people in one ethnic group. It is all about the elite who are aspiring and grabbing power. There is a clear distinction between the two. For example, it is now evident that TPLFites and the people in Tigray are not one and the same thing. The elites have manipulated and destroyed the people to get power and wealth. Similarly, the Oromo elites and the Oromo people are not the same. In all parts of Ethiopia, most people have different priorities than these power-seeking elites. Generally, people struggle to make it in life. They are, for the most part, very peaceful and country-loving. In contrast, the elites are more self-centered and cunning and want to maximize their interests at the demise of others.
Now, why do we talk about these power-seeking Oromo elites? The answer is simple. They have become a burden for Ethiopia. The TPLFites were a burden for the country before; now, it is the Oromo elites’ turn. Let us justify our claim. To do that, one should understand the nature of the struggle the Oromo elites went through over time. In the past, there was too much focus on TPLFites and their scheme to dominate the country. But now, it is time to understand well the new elites who are trying to stay in power for some period of time. Everything we see does not happen overnight. It is built over many decades of discontent, struggle, defeat, and victory. Unless one understands the contours these people have gone through, it will be difficult to predict precisely what will transpire in the coming months and years in the country. This piece contributes to shed light on this matter. All the following aspects have something to do with the country’s current political narrative and how the current state grabbers become a burden for the country.
The Oromo elites claim that the Oromo people were independent before Abyssinia conquered them. They complained that the Amhara culture had dominated military and monarchic rule eras. Many Amhara were relocated to their region during these rules serving in the administration, courts, church, and even school. Oromo language and culture were eliminated and replaced by Amharic, undermining the Oromo identity and heritage. These and other murmurings created aspirations for the political claims of ethnic self-governing and power-seeking among the elites. All these things have since been the subject of debate and negotiation until today.
There is no more famous grouping in this struggle than . There are competing theories on the subject of the Oromo elites’ struggle: “where it started” and “who started it.” The general consensus is that when the Haile Selassie Regime attacked the then-famous Mecha and Tuluma Self-Help Association (MESHA), an Oromo political and freedom social movement in Ethiopia, it gave way to a more formal and sustained struggle across the places where Oromo people live. Later this gave birth to the OLF in 1973. The full historical account of the start and the consolidation and the ups and downs of OLF can be found in other places. But in short, it is possible to say that MESHA was more active in Bale, Shewa, and some other parts represented by the likes of General Tadese Biru. In contrast, the insurrectionist OLF became more dominant and active in Welega, represented by the likes of Lencho Leta and Dawud Ibsa. Throughout its history, OLF suffered many divisions and strife, weakening its significance in capturing state power in the country. It was also targeted by Derg and later by the TPLF regime. Such within and external problems weakened its status in the country.
Many Oromoes resented an Oromo killing another Oromo. That happened when the TPLF partner OPDO haunted and killed the OLF members across the Oromia region, especially in Welega. It is still a painful memory for many. Some of the political exiles lived abroad in North America, Scandinavia, Germany, Australia, and so on because of the persecution due to the OPDO forces who were then obeying their master’s TPLFites. Many were killed, imprisoned, and forced to flee the country. This story resonates with the people in PP leadership who are now leading the country. As we know, during the last five years, OPDO transformed itself into Oromo Democratic Party (ODP) and Oromo Prosperity Party (PP). Every day, Oromo PP elites struggle to separate themselves from that painful history. Otherwise, they will not get the heart of the region’s people. To make things worse, the remnants of the OLF forces were allowed to return from Eritrea without being disarmed. They were/are allowed to run free in the region without responsibility and accountability. Partly, this is one of the main reasons why the PP-led government failed to enforce law and order across the region during the last five years, especially in Welega. That is how they literally become a burden for the country.
In the struggle to topple TPLFites from power, there is one name that gains momentum across different groupings. That is the name of Jawar Mohammed. From his residence in the USA, he galvanized support among the youth, called Qerro, across the Oromia region meaningfully. Not only that, he even made a strategic alliance with elites in other parts of the country and especially with the Amhara elites in the diaspora, who were/are the prominent opposition forces. Using media like ESAT, they have fought the TPLF-led govt. Jawar Mohammed had joined them using his own Oromo Media Network (OMN) too. He even used the OPDO people in the government to align with the struggle. For example, how can he successfully steal and distribute the national exam to the students without insiders in the TPLF-led government helping him? But then, the then OPDO started its way to capture the state power from the hands of the TPLF using the party dynamics of the EPDRF. They managed to snatch power. They were in the proximity of the power, 4-Killo. But the real struggle was done by many youths across the country and some diaspora elites like Jawar Mohammed and others (we only focus on Oromo elites in this piece). This created resentment among the real players who brought change. The same OPDO transformed into Oromo PP and grabbed the power, taking advantage of OLF, also called the Oromo liberation army (OLA), and the Qerro movement. The tension between these elites was displayed well by different events, like the killing of Hachalu Hundessa (singer, songwriter, and civil rights activist) and the throwing of Jawar Mohammed and his compatriots into prison. This mistrust also plays a central role in the current dynamics of the Oromo elites aspiring for power. There is real competition among all these Oromo elites on who truly represents the interest of the Oromo people. Daily, they are doing some dramas to win the heart of the people. This makes the current PP led the government to be suspected as part of the drama happening here and there, as it mainly competes with other players to get the minds and hearts of the youth. These dramas are the ones that shock other ethnic groups nationwide, threatening the country’s integrity.
The current/existing political dramas by the Oromo elites were discussed, negotiated, and planned during the two years war with the TPLF forces (TDF). When everybody in the country was focused on the war, the Oromo elites had another priority. They were not fully engaged in the war. Of course, the top leaders coordinated the forces involved in the war, like the military, the Afar, and Amhara different forces, at war. However, a careful observer notices that the Oromo elites had other agendas. As a matter of fact, they were also threatened by the demise of TPLF forces, as they are compatriots for them when it comes to ethnic-based federalism. They all do not want TPLF to disappear from the political map. They want a weakened TPLF. That is why they went into the negotiation at the end when they could win over TPLF completely and set free the people of Tigray from the dominance of the TPLFtes.
One another significant event was the release of Jawar and other prisoners. The justification for such a drastic decision, aborting the order of the rule of law, was “the elders have advised us.” It might be accounted as part of the “Gada” system, which the Oromo people value highly. Gada is a traditional system of governance used by the Oromo people. You set high value for “Gada” system means you are a true Oromo. This shows an intensive negotiation had undergone secretly. By the way, the prime minister’s decision undermined the #NoMore movement, which was a symbol of unity for all Ethiopians and even beyond. The sabotaging of the #NoMore movement started to separate him from the diaspora, where the PM got real moral, diplomatic, political, economic, and propaganda support during his first three years of reign. In addition, the deliberate political actions after the war, like the Oromia flag and anthem in Addis Ababa schools, the new Oromia Orthodox synod, and the making of Sheger City, as well as sending the military troops to Amhara region for disarming special forces are all parts of the negotiation and competition among the Oromo elites. They have set their priority clear that the forces in Amhara region should be disband. The conflict in Wellega in the places like Kiremu have given the Oromo elites a lesson.
Another event that was told on the news during the war was that the Oromia region trained over a million special forces in the region. The question is, where are these forces? What are they doing in the past three years when all those people are killed in Welega and other places? Why did they fail to enforce law and order? There are rumors that many of these forces have been joining the OLA forces with their arms, who were extending their territorial control from western Welega to Eastern Welega, Western Shewa, and Northern Shewa. Recently, OLA and the government were negotiating in Tanzania, and OlA forces have asked them to govern the Oromia region and the Oromo PP to lead the federal government. No one knows the substance of their discussions. But there are reports that the OLA forces are controlling many areas in different directions near Addis Ababa, a few kilometers away from the federal power in 4-Killo. Even this week, there is a report that a hidden negotiation is happening inside the country among all the Oromo elites seeking power.
Many Ethiopians are wondering about the country’s current status and future fate. To tell the fact, the Oromo elites have an ongoing, active, and dynamic power struggle. Many are in government institutions that are deeply corrupted and abusing their own people. Some Oromo elites are in opposition parties, and others are in the jungle. They all have the same goal, but they compete for dominance. These all act independently, creating a system that can be best described as anarchy- creating disorder due to the absence or non-recognition of authority or other controlling systems. They are competing with each other. This has become a real burden on Ethiopians. Most Ethiopians do not care if the leader is from this or that tribe. But they truly care for the rule of law and their life to be fair. But what we hear every day has become unbearable for the people. And it is squarely the fault of the Oromo elites who cannot create a peaceful, rule-based, fair, and stable governing system. They are confused, and they confuse the people. They do not know what to do. They act like madmen. Ethiopians need to understand this dynamic and deal with it correctly.