Sunday, January 18, 2015

Bakalchoo Barii:- The Ethiopian Empire Formation and Its Consequences on the Oromo and Beyond

By Bakalchoo Barii*
With the help of the then three colonial powers, Minilik, the Abyssinian king, managed to break and conquer the Oromo country and beyond in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. Following this war of conquest, the invading Abyssinian colonial army, not only committed genocide on the entire Oromo, Walayita, Sidama and other people, but also committed cultural, historical, social, economical genocides in these new frontiers by imposing the Abyssinian culture, language, way of life, administrations and religion. These crimes were committed by presenting anything Abyssinian as superior to the languages, cultures, systems of governance of the new colonies, as Europeans did practice when they conquered vast territories in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Thanks to their heroes and heroines, the Oromo and the Southern peoples, began the journey of re-claiming what has been theirs and are re-writing their own history.
Like other empires in history, the Ethiopian Empire shall collapse by the subject-peoples, on which it was built on, and that process of decolonization and the wheel of freedom is marching forward with full gear so that those subject-nations can claim their due place among the free nations of the world.
The late P.T.W. Baxter spent much of his time studying mainly the Boran and the Arsi Oromos. Paul Baxter documented and wrote many research books and articles on the Oromo way of life, their Gadaa system of governance and their experiences under the Ethiopian empire after the Minilik colonial army managed to conquer much of the Oromo land and the Southern land by default and with the help of the then European Colonial powers, the French, the British and the Italians.
In his research article titled “Ethiopia’s Unacknowledged Problem: The Oromo” (July 1978), he wrote the following:
“Each of the Oromo people has a distinctive history but all have shared comparable experiences. Perhaps I may select a few observed by myself in Arssi to illustrate some common types of Oromo experience.
“They [the Arssi and the Oromo country beyond] were finally subjugated by Shoan gunpower in 1887 after six different annual campaigns which R.H Kofi Darkwa, the Ghanaian historian of Minilik’s reign, summarizes as ‘perhaps the most sustained and the most bloody war which Menilek undertook’.”
The above description of the sustained and bloody campaign of Minilik resulted in the cutting of limps of men of all ages, breasts of women of the Arssi Oromos, which many Oromo anthropologists, historians and the elderly equate to the genocide committed against the Armenians by the Ottman Turkish Empire during the First World War, in which over a million Armenians were killed.
Paul Baxter and John Hinnant, who both studied the Arssi, the Boran and the Guji Oromos in the 1960s, summarized the experiences of those Oromos under conquest as the following: “The Arssi described their conquest by Abyssinians as the commencement of an era of miseries, since which life has not run as God intended it but out of true.” “The Boran likewise divided their history into two eras, before and after, the first of which was good and the second bad” to describe what colonization has brought upon them.
Similarly, John Hinnant described the experiences of the Guji Oromos as tending “to blame all social problems on their incorporation into the Ethiopian empire.”
The above feelings and humiliation expressed and felt by the Boran, the Arssi and the Guji Oromos are the same as the feelings and humiliation felt by the Oromos of the Wollo, the Rayya, the Karayu, the Ittu, the Leqa, the Mecha, and the Tulama.
One would always ask how successive Abyssinians regimes managed to rule over the Southern nations, including the Oromos (currently known as the subjects or colonies), who constitute more than two-third of the entire population of the Ethiopian Empire for so long?
The precise answer to the above question was given by Paul Baxter in his article “Ethiopia’s Unacknowledged Problem: The Oromo,” in which he says “The absolute political domination and cultural dominance of the Amhara [now the Tigreans], has resulted in the public presentation of Ethiopia as a state with a much more unitary culture than, in fact, it has. Even scholars has come to accept Ethiopia at the evaluation of its own sophisticated and charming elites.”
The current Tigrean elites copied their Amhara elites’ predecessors in presenting their Empire as a unitary and at peace with itself while waging an unprecedented war on the Oromo people and other nations. They (both the Amhara & Tigrean elites) hired foreign PR [public relations] companies, influential individuals, and lobbyists in Western capitals and political corridors to maintain their marginalisation of the Oromos and the Southern peoples, and present their Empire at peace with itself at the expense and misery of its subject-peoples.
Of all the Abyssinian regimes, the current TPLF regime can only be equated with that of Minilik rule because TPLF rulers, like Minilik, openly declared the entire Oromo people as the enemy of the state and placed them in open concentration camps, in parallel with what the Nazi Germany inflicted on the Jewish communities of Europe during the Second World War.
The question many Oromos and friends of Oromos raise is ‘Why is it the current rulers of the Empire (the TPLF) and their unprecedented scale of human rights violations and abuses on Oromos different from the past three regimes of the Empire rulers?’
- Unlike the past three regimes, which rose from the Amahric-speaking Abyssinians, the TPLF originates from a minority Tigrean region, which comprises only about five percent of the current Ethiopian Empire population, and was a junior partner or foot-soldier with the invading Minilik army during a war of conquest and expansion of the Abyssinian Empire towards the South.
- Secondly, the TPLF rose from a century-old power struggle with its close kin, the Amhara, who defeated the Tigrean king Yohannes IV. In other words, the TPLF came to power not only to rule over the Empire, but also to avenge their century-old wounds against their kin, the Amhara.
- Thirdly, TPLF cleverly learnt the shortcomings of the Amahara rulers over the colonies and, for the first time in the history of the Empire, forcefully accepted the existence of independent nations like the Oromos, and allowed some form of self-rule and the use of their languages in offices and schools.
However, when it comes to responding to democratic and just demands of the Oromo for total liberation from alien rulers, TPLF created a satellite organization which speaks the language of the indigenous population and used it as a Trojan horse to kidnap, harass, kill, displace and jail thousands of innocent Oromos for only demanding their country Oromia be free, and it is only Oromos, as owners and custodians of their country Oromia, who shall decide their future relationships with neighbouring countries, including the Abyssinian themselves.
According to official reports by Amnesty International, Oromia Support Group and other local human rights bodies, currently there are close to 45,000 innocent Oromo prisoners of conscience in different TPLF concentration camps.
The late TPLF ruler, Meles Zenawi, loudly and clearly declared on many occasions that, TPLF conquered the Empire’s power by the barrel of guns, and, therefore, it can only be forced out of power by those who can use the same tactics. This reminded me of that famous saying “power never gives up by will, but only by force.”
The current minority regime of the TPLF hell-bent on not only committing unprecedented human rights atrocities against Oromos and other nations in the South, its determinations to displace millions of Oromos from their ancestral land, and selling those lands at the lowest bid to its foreign backers, destroy their forests by clearing in the name of development, and expose current and future generations of Oromos and the southern nations to environmental genocide shall have huge implications for the years to come.
The challenge for Oromos and the people of the South is that the old guards, who conquered and built the Ethiopian Empire, are so desperate and furious for losing the Empire to their junior partners, and making everything they humanely can to reclaim their lost glory in the name of “united Ethiopia, one vote and individual democratic rights” slogans. These old guards of the Empire are barking and pulling their hair inside and outside of the country to undo the symbolic self-rule that is currently in place – that successive Oromo generations earned by much blood and sacrifice.
As one of my favourite young broadcaster, journalist and poet Abdi Fixe recently put on his comment regarding the fire that destroyed the Taitu Hotel in Finfine, “where were these people who were so enraged by the burning of a hotel, for which the cause of the fire is not known yet, and silent when the TPLF Agazi militia murdered over seventy Oromo University students at Ambo and other Universities across Oromia for peacefully demonstrating against the expansion of Finfine?” Where were these people when TPLF Agazi army carried out mass murder on the people of the Gambella, Sidama? Where were these people when TPLF deliberately burned Forests across all over Oromia?
In fact, they are cheering and clapping from the side when and every time TPLF carries out their dirty work, and some of them cannot even hide their hatred towards the Oromo, the Gambella, the Sidama, and went on air and different social media in support of TPLF’s dirty deeds against the Oromo and the South.
For Oromo and Southern compatriots in the Diaspora, keep up the pressure on TPLF’s backers not to fund and support this inhumane and autocratic regime by coordinating your resources and hiring PR groups, lobbyists on behalf of your people back in the Empire, by collecting facts and figures of human rights violations that were committed and going to be committed, and expose them to governments and agencies in the West not to support this brutal regime diplomatically, financially and militarily.
Describing why the Oromo demand for statehood has not received news coverage in the West, despite the problem of the Oromo, has been a major and central one in the Ethiopian Empire ever since it was created by Minilik in the last two decades of the 19th Century, Paul Baxter attributes the role of the Western media for failing to cover this Oromo and Southern issue due to two major factors:
The first factor was all “the difficulties the Ethiopian Empire has been enduring were the conflicts in the north and eastern frontiers (with Eritrea and Somalia), which were fairly reported due to their accessibility to foreign reporters, coupled with the interests of the Great Powers and their satellites have been involved”.
The second factor for the under-coverage or total absence of covering the Oromo and the Ethiopian Empire conflicts was the absolute political domination and cultural dominance of the Amhara has resulted in the public presentation of Ethiopia as a state with a much more unitary culture than, in fact, it has. Even some Western and “African Scholars” have come to accept Ethiopia at the evaluation of its own sophisticated and charming elites.
There is one last myth or propaganda, which both the Abyssinian camps are using as a last resort to foil the total liberation of Oromos and the Southern people, including the Ogadeni Somalis, who have similar aspirations of being free from Abyssinian domination. This last myth or propaganda currently waged and used by both Abyssinian camps are puffing out “if Oromia shall become independent, their neighboring nations, such as Sidama, Walayita, Kambata, Hadiya, Harari & Somali, will be dominated or even cease to exist as a people.” This is a complete myth used as a last resort to delay the inevitable liberation of Oromia and other nations indicated above. We, Oromos, have lived peacefully and protected these nations to maintain their ways of life, languages, cultures, religious practices, and we have been living with these nations for thousands of years.
Imagine if these nations were bordering either the Amhara or Tigrean Abyssinians? Their fate would have very similar to the Wollo Oromos who were forced to be Amharas, and the Rayya Oromos, who were forced to abandon their language and history to be Tigrean-speaking people. Above all, we, Oromos, share common ways of life and share closer kinship with our neighbors than what the Empire rulers try to portray.
One last message to my Oromo and Southern compatriots is to support their political and media organizations to shed lights and expose the chronic human rights violations perpetrated by successive Abyssinian regimes, so that their people back home shall rise and get rid off them once and for all for peace to reign in that part of Africa. Strengthening and empowering Oromo media organizations will fill this void and the under-reporting of Oromo and the southern people conflicts with the Ethiopian Empire.
Let me quote the late P.T.W. Baxter and conclude my message:
“… But the efflorescence of feelings of common nationhood and aspirations for self-determination among the cluster of peoples who speak Oromo has not been much commented upon. Yet the problem of the Oromo people as has been a major and central one in the Ethiopian Empire ever since it was created by Minilik in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. If the Oromo people only obtain a portion of the freedoms which they seek, then the balance of political power in Ethiopia will be completely altered. If the Oromo act with unity, they must necessarily constitute a powerful force … If an honest and free election was held (an unlikely event) and the people voted by ethnic blocks, as experience of elections elsewhere in Africa suggests that they well might do, then around half the votes would be cast by Oromo for the Oromo …”
May Waaqaa bless our forebears, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters – who paid the ultimate price for the dignity of the Oromo people and the Southern nations.
* For any comments or suggestions, Bakalchoo Barii can be contacted at delivers information on Oromia and the Horn of African region: top news stories and analyses, politics, and culture, arts & entertainment, and more.

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