I was one of the loyal readers of the Nazret.com for I like its lively comments, which are full of conspiracies, suspicions, sarcasms, humors, and which are, in a way, reflective of the reality of the Ethiopian politics. These days, I visit the website sporadically after it recently developed a strong tone ofItyopiyawinnat, and it imposed a blanket sanction on the viewpoints of Oromos. For instance, the website did not post most or all recent issues dealing with the Oromo people in Ethiopia on the Al-Jazeera, including an article “The Oromo and the War on Terror in the Horn of Africa” – written by Ambassador Akbar Ahmed and Frankie Martin of the American University. Their piece became an issue only after a certain Dula Abdu wrote a piece about it, “Anti-Ethiopia article from American University Faculty and Al Jazeera.” Technically, Nazret readers are informed about “The Oromo and the War on Terror in the Horn of Africa” through the piece and the vantage point of Mr. Dula Abdu. A Nazret approach does not enhance a constructive debate on the future of Ethiopia among various actors and stakeholders. In fact, whether we like it or not, the future of Ethiopia belongs to all Ethiopians, those who consider themselves Ethiopian First and Oromo First and whatever first. We have to hear all viewpoints, including the ones we agree and disagree with; the ones we like or dislike; and the ones we praise or castigate. The era of paternalism, we know what is good or bad for all Ethiopians, is over.
That said, let me go to a main issue I want to address, the aforementioned piece of Mr. Dula Abdu. Mr. Dula denies atrocities committed by Emperor Minilik against the Oromo people, and he tries to connect the Oromo issue to the Egypt-Ethiopian row over the Nile River. The assertion that Minilik’s army killed 5 million Oromos is “based on hearsay and lacks credibility.” He tried to provide a proof for that in the form of citing resources from “Wikipedia” about the population of Ethiopia at the time. Convinced that he disproved the fatalities of the Minilik conquest, Mr. Dula contends that the view reflected by Ambassador Akbar Ahmed and Frankie Martin on the Al Jazeera article are “anti-Ethiopia” or “hostile to Ethiopia.” He relates this to “remarks” of Egyptian politicians who want “to destabilize Ethiopia by planting false propaganda and sabotage.” He also mentioned about a clandestine mission of Egyptian and Sudanese governments to attack the Renaissance Dam. However, he hardly made a single evidence to prove the alleged connection between the writers of the piece and the Egyptian government.
Firstly, I believe that Mr. Dula Abdu has the right to be suspicious about anything. This feels like déjà vuall over again. We were indoctrinated in schools that Ethiopia was a Christian Island in the middle of hostile environment, besieged by enemies, and it had nothing to do with the Arabs to the north and the Black Africa to the south. Any group asking for its rights in Ethiopia is always described as an enemy of the country and an agent of foreign interests. I should underline that I do not think that it is right to attach the Oromo issue to the geopolitical fever of the time.
Secondly, I feel Mr. Dula Abdu deficiency on the history of the “Ethiopian peoples.” What we learned about Ethiopian history in schools were not about events in the past, but glories of the kings who fabricated colorful myths to perpetuate their rules. Thus, whereas we were taught about the glories of Minilik, Yohannis, and Tewodros in school, we hardly learned anything about their inhumane violence. If this inhumane violence is discussed, they are presented as a collateral damage to their civilization mission. Therefore, I understand your ignorance about the Oromo people. Of course, let alone about the Oromo people, the same neglect is there in the Ethiopian history about the Amara people. I do not think we learned much about Gojjam to the extent we learned about the legend of the Queen of Sheba.
Therefore, to fill that knowledge vacuum, let me try to provide some sources you may consult about the five-million figure, if you may not like to read, “The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam.” I suggest to you the work of a Russian Lieutenant (A. K. Bulatovich) — who campaigned with Minilik army in the Oromo land and South Omo — “Ethiopia through Russian Eyes: Country in Transition, 1896-1898.” Perhaps, you might know that Bulatovich played a crucial role in training the Ethiopian army during the Adwa campaign. He described the conquest of Minilik as the “dreadful annihilation of more than half the population” of the Oromo, from ten million to five million. The French missionary Martial de Salviac, who extensively traveled in Ethiopia, also made a similar assessment at the time. You can read his book, “Un Peuple Antique, Ou Une Colonie Gauloise Au Pays De Ménélik: les Galla, Grande Nation Africaine,” which is recently translated to English by Ayalew Kanno. According to de Salviac, the Oromo population would have doubled or tripled had it not been for that brutal conquest. In his words: “Avant ces tristes années, rendues plus lugubres par la sanglante conquête abyssine qui précédait ou suivait le fléau, la population Galla devait atteindre le chiffre respectable de vingt-cinq à trente millions.” Therefore, these historical facts were written by the people who witnessed consequences of the conquest. It is not something that constructed recently to “create tension and mistrust among Ethiopians” as Mr. Dula claims. Of course, the Minilik battles against the Oromo supposed to be an issue a century ago when the Minilik Battle against the Italians became a global issue.
As an Oromo and a person who cares about social justice in Ethiopia, I would like to thank Ambassador Akbar and Frankie for letting the world know these untold atrocities committed against the Oromo people. Mr. Dula Abdu assertion that “Akbar and Frankie piece violated all the tenets of scholarly work and basic research” is baseless assertion to say the least. Instead of rendering this valuable discussion ‘anti-Ethiopian,’ this is the debate we need to encourage if we want to make Ethiopia a better place for all its peoples. Mr. Dula may respond to me that “we have issues that are more pressing on hand.” However, I believe that the issues we have at hand, what he calls, “the ethnocentric and one party dictatorship in Ethiopia,” is a continuation of the legacy of the Imperial Ethiopia. “The egregious human rights violations” under the TPLF rule he is talking about are similar to the Minilik battles that claimed the life of Mr. Dula’s ‘great uncle.’ The oppression and exploitation we are talking about under the TPLF rule is similar to subjugation and humiliation that the Minilik invasion brought to his family as he noted.
Mr. Dula’s silver bullet to the crimes committed by the empire builders is to forget them as the current issue is more pressing than the past. My friend, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to re-live it.” I know that when you tell us about the death of your uncle, it hurts. The same is true; telling the slaughters of the innocent Oromo are more painful to us than to the Ethiopianists who want to silence us. But, we are tolerating the pain and telling them loudly as a Holocaust survivor noted, “Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.”
My Ethiopian friends, if you are serious about the future of Ethiopian politics, we can deal with its past, present, future at the same time. Please, stop associating the legitimate Oromo issue with the Nile issue and come forward for a meaningful conversation.
* Kadiro Elemo is a Chicago based independent researcher and the author of “The United States and Ethiopia: The Tragedy of Human Rights.”