On Saturday, 15 September 2018 Addis Ababa was inundated with a flood of people coming from all corners of the country. They were here to welcome the leaders of the famous Oromo Liberation Front OLF leaders back from exile. The rebel party that had been carrying out armed struggle for the last four decades and more has been welcomed by a government on power in open daylight and in grand pomp and fanfare by millions waving its logo and various slogans euphorically!
The OLF is well known for its advocacy of the rights of the Oromo in the Ethiopian political landscape. However, it has never had the chance to present its case to the people and government of Ethiopia in a peaceful and open manner and seek power like it does now.
There are various controversies among historians and other academics regarding the formation and consolidation of the Ethiopian state and in this context the Oromo issue has always been considered central. There definitely have been several waves of migrations of peoples, including the Oromo, and other ethnic peoples throughout the country. Mass waves of movements of peoples were evidently more common in antique days. It would be arduous if not impossible to trace a boundary for such and such people and another boundary for the others.
The fact that the ruling EPRDF coalition had tried to arrange for an ethnic language based federation may have ‘worsened’ the situation creating a sense of artificial division among people whereas the reality shows us that Ethiopians have always been intermingling and living in various areas of the country in communities.
The Oromo Liberation Front dates back decades and even after the demise of first the monarchy and then the military it was never admitted to government circles. Hence the OLF has always vehemently sustained that the right to self-determination of its the people has been suppressed and the only way to solve this issue would be armed struggle.
On the other hand, the Oromo Peoples Democratic Organisation, OPDO, now changing its name to ODP, or Oromo Democratic Party, that was originally established by the EPRDF government to clearly counter if not to outright replace the OLF in the hearts of the natives. However, this mission appears to have failed given the kind of popularity that the OLF always enjoyed albeit in a subdued manner as the OLF was once labelled as a terrorist organization.
What is usually asserted is that the alternatives to the OLF were not so popular except amongst those who were closely associated with the hierarchies of the party and did enjoy privileges due to their affiliation. The OLF sustained that its people be freed from any ‘foreign influence’ and attain self-determination. That was at least the original stand point of the leaders often heard while they were solicited. Their argument was that they have whatever it takes to be an independent state. However, there is also the reality that the people have intermingled for centuries with the other nationalities of Ethiopia, particularly with the highlanders in the north and centre.
Hence, a new trend had lately been developing adopting a more pragmatic and realistic political approach. In fact, many say the Oromo are the stem or trunk of ‘the tree of Ethiopia’ and not a branch and it cannot detach itself from this reality. They argue if it were a simple branch it would have resulted relatively easy to secede but not with the current reality on the ground. Therefore, they argue ‘what we need to do is fight for our rights in the context of one country called Ethiopia with all our cultural and traditional rights fully respected and preserved’.
We know that the history of the Oromo struggle for freedom has had several developments and along the path, there have been several disagreements among the components of the people. There may be some light differences in certain ways among the various regions where the Oromo reside amongst the Ethiopian nationalities. There has been some inevitable influence and evolution in the interexchange of the cultural and linguistic norms and customs. In some other places the culture is relatively more original and follows purely the age old heritage. The controversy hence remains which one is the true identity of the Oromo people given that they are scattered largely as they are big in number and even extend outside the borders of Ethiopia.
Be that as it may, it now appears that there is this consensus among the large mass of Oromo intellectuals and political academics that the best deal would be to live and work in unison with the reality of Ethiopia given also that the big part of the history of Ethiopia is also written by the Oromo. Some historians have even reached the conclusion that among the monarchy and the traditional leaders of the country were people of Oromo origin including those somehow reputed to have mistreated the Oromo people in their pursuit of power and glory.