Commentary on the current status of Afan Oromo in Gimbi town, West Oromia
By Gigsa Tesso | August 21, 2013
Gimbi town is an administrative centre of West Wallaga Zone of Oromia. Presently, Gimbi is one of the relatively populous cities in Wallaga next to Nekemte with the estimated total population over 40,000.The residents of the town are more or less Oromo but there are few non-Oromo people. Most of the non-Oromo residents of the town do speak Oromo language unless they avoid its usage because they failed to recognize that language is a tool. In Gimbi town, most strategic sites are controlled by non-Oromo businessmen who have had special privileges to enjoy in the successive regimes. The town is also remembered by the systematic elimination emerging Oromo businessmen like Esayas Dime, owner of Waliya Hotel, who was gunned down in the early 1990s.
I had the chance to visit the town last summer. In the town, unemployment was rampant and so many daily laborers were underpaid. I also observed touching issues which motivated me to write this commentary. Because Gimbi is a rural Oromia town, there is a high probability for the inhabitants in the town to speak Oromo language, even if they may be ethnically not Oromo. Unfortunately, however, I found that it is very difficult to get any form service in the town in Afan Oromo. Because I was expected to travel to different districts of West Wallaga region, I took accommodation in the town during my stay in the zone. So I had to visit hotels and restaurants. When I requested waiters/ waitresses to get service in Oromo, I recognized that majority of them were not speakers of Afan Oromo or they had no interest to speak the language. Astonished by this fact, I decided to walk around the town to have a general picture to recognize what was going on. I eventually realized that in the town, there is an attempt to avoid speaking and using of Afan Oromo. One of the strategies used to implement this sordid plan is hiring waitresses and waiters who are not familiar with or not willing to speak Afan Oromo. This means that because you do not have any alternative, you are forced to speak Amharic to get the services you want to be rendered to you. The second is by systematically avoiding the use of Afan Oromo in written advertisement like billboard or by misuse. Of course this problem is not only in Gimbi town. For example, no single logo of university in Oromia is written in Oromo Language whereas universities in Amhara or Tigray region use their respective regional language on their logos. The following logos of universities have great message to tell us about how administrative organs of universities in Oromia are incapable to empower Afan Oromo.
In most cases, Afan Oromo is written just for nominal and one cannot read and understand most of the writings without using magnifying glasses. For example, one can understand from Cheru Bar and Restaurant which is known by its notorious use of Afan Oromo. This restaurant is situated on the two storey building owned by Gimbi municipality, located in front of West Wallaga Zone OPDO (Oromo Peoples Democratic Organization) head office. In the first place, it is not clear why Gimbi municipality gave a person with anti-Oromo sentiment the privilege to lease the building or failed to advice him to behave in accordance with the law of the country. According to the currently functioning constitution of the country, Afan Oromo is a legal language in Oromia and in any business poster in the region, it should come as a primary language. The other manifestation of anti-Afan Oromo sentiment in Gimbi town is that most shopkeepers have no interest to speak Oromo language. In the summer of 2012, I got the chance to travel to Gimbi town with an elder who wanted to buy some corrugated iron sheets for his rural house. The elder asked one of the shopkeepers “meeqaa qorqoroon kun balleen tokkon isaa” (literary means how much is the price of one corrugated iron sheet?). The shopkeeper looked at him and replied “ante yemitilehun ala’ukim, le antem alshetim”(which literary means I do not know what you are talking about, even I am not going to sell to you).It appears that the guy was familiar with Afan Oromo because he responded that he had no interest to sell his iron sheets. Nothing is as disgraceful as hearing a person who refuses to use a language he/she is familiar with as a medium of communication for his/her own business in the twenty-first century. This is a great reminder for all concerned Oromos about the long journey ahead of us. I would like to conclude my commentary citing quotation of Dr.Maxwell Maltz which goes as“My greatest point is my persistence. I never give up in a match. However down I am, I fight until the last ball. My list of matches shows that I have turned a great many so-called irretrievable defeats into victories.”