The same old poison over and over again: response to an article entitled “History 101: Fiction and Facts on Oromos in Ethiopia”…
Dhugaa Bari (PhD student) | August 7, 2013
On July 29, 2013 an article entitled “History 101: Fiction and Facts on Oromos in Ethiopia (a guide for foreign journalists on Oromos and Ethiopian history)” was written by ‘Prof. Fekadu Lamessa’. The writer claims that the aim of his article is to offer “some corrections” to “inaccuracies or biased information” al Jazeera has published about Oromo nation and struggle recently. In this regard, he outlined four core points he considered as “inaccurate” about Oromo history that al Jazeera has extensively reported, and instead offered us what he thinks are ‘facts’. For him, i) Between late 1870s and 1900, half of all Oromos (around 5 million) were not killed because in the late 1880s even the total population of the Empire/Ethiopia were less than 5 million, and thus Menelik did not commit genocide against Oromos; ii) “Oromo people have never been a predominantly Muslim people”; iii) Arabs and Somalis were the one who labeled Oromos the derogatory word ‘Galla’, not Abyssinians, and iv) Oromos were never colonized by Abyssinians (Amhara). In this article, based on available historical evidences a critically evaluation of each of the four assertions Fekadu outlines is offered.
Fekadu’s first assertion: Between late 1870s and 1900, half of all Oromos (around 5 million) were not killed because in the late 1880s even the total population of the Empire were less than 5 million, and thus Menelik did not commit genocide against Oromos.
The writer has offered us no evidence to support his claim that in the late 1880s the total population of the Empire was less than 5 million. It is a common knowledge that until the mid-1960s, a time when the first population sample survey was conducted; there were no population data for the whole parts of the Empire. Of course, there were population data from guesses by travelers and visitors for different parts of the Empire . But, these guesses did not cover especially the most densely populated south and southwestern parts of the Empire, and thus there were no population data for the whole Empire until the mid-1960s . So, if there was no data (guesses) about the total population size of the Empire before 1900, how comes the claim that “the total Ethiopian population (the sum of dozens of ethnic groups) was much less than 5 million in the late 1800s”. This is a question Fekadu has to answer.
Contrary to Fekadu’s assertion, Dula Abdu  reports that the total population of Ethiopia was nine million in the 19th century. This 9 million total population guess is also incorrect due to two basic reasons: Firstly, for which date in the 19th century this 9 million people was guessed is unknown, and secondly it is not possible to make a guess for the total population for an Empire in the processes making during the last half of 19 century (as its boundaries were not clearly known yet). It is pity that Fekadu is fabricating data while Dula is accepting uncritically whatever figure guessed about the total population of the Empire, but both of them blindly reject a better historical population data (estimates) about Oromos and the atrocities the Abyssinians committed against the Oromos. In an attempt to claim that Menelik did not committee genocide against Oromos, Mr. Dula has also gone further to apply the percentage of Oromo people from the mid-1960s sample survey to the 9 million he has proposed for the Empire, to show that there were only 3.1 million Oromos in the 19th century. This is unacceptable not only because the 9 million was unreliable figure, but also because of the faulty assumption that the proportion of Oromos compared to the proportion of the rest population of the Empire throughout the 19th century and first half of 20th Century were similar, given the genocide Menelik committed against the Oromos in the second half of 19th century. Furthermore, even the data from the above mentioned survey is unreliable because historically “it was not in the interest of the Ethiopian government to collect and publish accurate data on the ethnic, linguistic, and religious diversity of Ethiopia” .
On the other hand, according to the population data reconstruction from the 1984 Census, in 1900 the total population of the Empire was estimated to 12 million with only 0.2% annual growth rate . As the data reconstruction was based on Census data (although some level of under enumeration, for example, due to logistic problem could be expected for the 1984 census), the 12 million is a better estimation compared to Fekadu’s less than 5 million population guess for the late 1880s. It is a fact that the period between the late 1860 to 1900 was characterized by the war waged by Menelik against the Oromos and other nation and nationalities in the south parts of the Empire. The period was also characterized by disease and famine. The low annual growth rate (0.2%) in 1900 was the reflection of the high mortality rates of that period. However, if as Fekadu claims the total population of the Empire were less than 5 million in the late 1880s, how did the total population of the Empire managed to reach 12 million in 1900 given the low level of annual population growth rate of that period? For example, if we assume the total population of the empire were 5 million in 1888, and try to estimate the total population of the Empire for the 1900 using the 0.2% , the total population would be only 5,121,328 million (Try here: http://www.metamorphosisalpha.com/ias/population.php). Even if we raise the annual population growth rate to 3%, the highest annual population growth rate recorded so far in the Empire in the 20th , which is very unlikely to occur in traditional society like that of Abyssinia in 19th century (according to demographic transition model:http://www.uwmc.uwc.edu/geography/demotrans/demtran.htm), and then apply to the hypothetical 5 million population of the Empire in 1888, the population size of the Empire would only be 7,128,804 in 1900. This finding puts Fikadu’s assertion that the total population of the Empire “was much less than 5 million in the late 1880s” on its head. Therefore, it is up to the writer and his likes conscience not to accept the reality that Menelik had massacred half of the total Oromo population between 1868 and 1900 . But it is totally wrong and unethical to come out with fabricated data to hide the reality that Menelik has committed genocide against the Oromo people.
Fekadu’s second assertion: “Oromo people have never been a predominantly Muslim people”
The writer has used wrong data to make a claim that “Oromo people have never been a predominantly Muslim people”. According to the 2007 population census of the Empire , it is true that of the total population living in Oromia, 48.5% practice Christianity (Orthodox 30.4%, protestant 17.7%, Catholic 0.5%), 47.6% practice Islam, and 3.9% practice Waaqefannaa and other religion. The same census report has also indicated that of the total population living in Oromia, 87.8% reported themselves as Oromo while 7.2% as Amhara, and 5% as other ethnic groups. However, for unknown reason Central Statistical Agency of the Empire has not yet published data on the proportion of Oromos and other ethnic groups practicing the different religions. Hence, we do not have data to see the proportion of Oromos practicing Islam, Christianity and other religions. And it is wrong to compare the percentages of the total population living in Oromia that practice Christianity and Islam, and then to run to a conclusion that “Oromo people have never been a predominantly Muslim people”. Deliberately the writer has neglected the difference between the total population (Oromo and other ethnic groups in Oromia) and the total Oromo population to make a wrong assertion. On the other hand, if we exclude other ethnic groups such as Amhara, who constitute the majority (nearly 60%) of the total population from other ethnic groups living in Oromia , the proportion of Muslim Oromos seem to be higher than that of Christian Oromos. As we know, most Amhara people practice Christianity. For example, 82% of the total population living in Amhara region practices Christianity . And it is logical to expect at least a similar proportion of Amara people living in Oromia region to practice Christianity as that of the total population in Amhara region.
Fekadu’s third assertion: ‘Arabs and Somalis were the one who labeled Oromo the derogatory word ‘Galla’, not Abyssinians’.
This is also a wrong conclusion. Historical literatures show that there are different hypotheses about the origin of this derogatory name . However, these literatures also assert that it was the Abyssinians (the ruling Amhara-Tigre groups) [9, 10], and Arabs  that extensively used this name against Oromos. Here, it is important to note that contrary to Fekadu’s claim Somalis were not even mentioned as using this derogatory name against Oromos let alone labeling the name to them [9, 10]. Moreover, it is the Abyssinian (Amhara) rulers and elites that had instituted the use of this derogatory name in their dictionary, proverbs and law among other things, which is a clear act of dehumanizing the Oromo people to build the Empire. This instituting of the term has created more resentment among the Oromos. And as far as Abyssinian or pro-Abyssinian elites like Fekadu continue to attempt to hide this reality, and instead try to feed us the old poison (distorted stories) over and over again, more and more Oromos are pushed to the right wing that will speed up the death of their beloved Empire.
Fekadu’s fourth assertion: “the Oromo nation as a whole was never colonized by” Emperor Menelik (Amhara).
This claim is not only wrong but also inconsistent with the history of colonization worldwide. On the one hand, the writer is telling us that “when it comes to the Emperor Menelik era, all historians have argued that…a predominantly Amharic language speaking community…conquered a predominantly Afan Oromo language speaking community in the 1800s.” But, on the other hand, he claims that Oromos were never colonized by Amhara. It is clear that no Oromo Organization and scholar have claimed that all Abyssinians (Amharas) came to colonize Oromia. The writer is just trying to confuse the Oromo people to attain his hidden agenda- bringing back all the distorted stories related to Oromo history as a last effort to save the decaying Imiye Itopiya. From world history we know that the whole English or French people (or any colonizer we could mention) did not come, and colonize Africans or Asians or South Americans or even some of their neighbors (e.g. the English colonization of Ireland). Furthermore, the Europeans were used some of the local chiefs and people to colonize many African countries, for example. So, Menelik’s systematic use of some Oromos to Colonize Oromia was not a peculiar event, and it does not change the fact that the Amharas subjugated the Oromos in the late 19th century. The writer is also trying to defend his claim by making reference to some of the earlier battles between Abyssinians (mainly Amhara) and Oromo, and their earlier commercial contacts. Such reasoning is irrelevant. It is clear from the world history that European colonizers, for instance, did not fall out of the sky overnight and colonized African countries. They had been in contact for long time through missionaries, trade etc… with the people and countries they later colonized.
As we know after Menelik fully subjugated the Oromo people and land, a large number of Abyssinian soldiers and other Amharas were settled in Oromia as migrants which is similar with what European colonizers did in their colonies. For example, 2.5 million Birtish (military personnel and other migrants) were settled in Canada upon colonization . So, the reason why Amhara constitutes 7.2% (which is nearly 60% of the total population from other ethnic groups living in Oromia) of the total population living in Oromia region , and 47% of the total population living in Finfine/Addis Ababa  is because Menelik colonized Oromia and encouraged the migration and settlementsof his fellow Amharas in Oromia. In addition, the reason why the names of many towns changed to Abyssinan names, and why millions of Oromos were also forced to change their names to Amhara names, is because of the Amhara colonization and the genocide they committed against Oromo culture.
In conclusion, Fikadu’s article is just a personal opinion, whereby fabricated and wrong data were used to back some of his claims. Generally, his article is one of the many distorted articles and books written by Abyssinian and pro-Abyssinian scholars that have been poisoning Oromo history over the past two centuries. In this sense, the article has nothing new to offer to educate us as well as the World at large about Oromo history. It is just the old poison that the writer wants to feed us again with a hidden agenda of attempting to hide facts about Oromo from the world and international media like al Jazeera to be able to undermine Oromos just cause and struggle for liberation. A simple reading of the title of the article especially the one in the parenthesis- “a guide for foreign journalists on Oromos and Ethiopian history” makes its hidden agenda unequivocally clear. The message his article aims to perpetuate is this: The World and international medias (journalists) must not talk to Oromo people and scholars to learn and report about Oromo people and history, rather they should blindly take and use the text from his article and the distorted stories written about the Oromo people by his predecessors as ‘god’ given. The other serious hidden agenda of the article is to divide Oromos along religion (Islam vs. Christian) and subgroups such as Macca, and Tulama vs. other Oromos to weaken Oromo unity and their struggle. But the hidden agendas as well as all the wrong assertions of Fekadu’s article have already failed on all fronts but one- i.e. it has sent a crystal clear message to all Oromos that the Abyssinian and pro-Abyssinian elites are still determined to stick to the distorted stories they created about Oromo people as the only means to save the Empire about to wreck. The route they chose, however, is only deepening a ditch, where the Empire will be buried once and forever.
References and notes
Hailemariam, A., 1990. Population dynamics in Ethiopia, DTRC, Addis Ababa.
Teller, C. H., T. Gebreselassie & A. Hailemariam. The lagging demographic and health transitions in rural Ethiopia: Socio-economic, agro-ecological and health service factor effecting fertility, mortality and nutrition trends, http://uaps2007.princeton.edu/papers/70214 Last visited on August 3, 2013.
Salviac, M. d.1900. Un Peuple Antique, Ou Une Colonie Gauloise Au Pays De Ménélik: les Galla, Grande Nation Africaine. Paris. Salviac estimated the Oromo population between 1850 and 1870 at about 10 million.
Bulatovich, A. K. Ethiopia Through Russian Eyes: Country in Transition, 1896-1898. Translated by Seltzer, R. Bulatovich noted that through the war of conquest Menelik exterminated about half the population the ten million Oromo.
Baxter P. T. W. 1983. The Problem of the Oromo or the Problem for the Oromo? In: I. M. Lewis (ed.} Nationalism and Self-Determination in the Horn of Africa. Page 135.