Since November 2015 to today (March 3, 2016), Oromia has been engulfed by massive political protests. The protest is the biggest ever recorded in Oromia region. As of today about 400 people have been killed, hundreds wounded and thousands imprisoned. Initially, the
protesters have been demanding the following:
- Return confiscated Oromo land to the Oromo farmers.
- “No!” to the Addis Ababa master plan (a plan intended to evict Oromo farmers and expand the cityinto Oromia).
- Bring Finfinne (Addis Ababa) back under Oromia’s jurisdiction as it belongs to the Oromo people both geographically and historically.
- Make the Oromo language one of the federal government’s working languages.
- End the structural, socio-economic marginalization of the Oromo people.
- Ensure true representation of the Oromo people in a genuine federation structure in the Ethiopian state.
As the Ethiopian government simply intensified the killing and the imprisonment of the protesters, the protestors added more political slogans:
- Stop the killings, torture, mass imprisonments and detentions in Oromia.
- Release political prisoners and bring the perpetrators to justice.
- Pay compensation to the victims of the killings, torture and
As the protests continued, the protesters noticed that privately and publicly owned
corporations were siding with the Ethiopian government. This created more slogans.
- The Oromo natural resources belong to the Oromo people.
- Bring Dire Dawa & Awaday back under Oromia’s jurisdiction.
- We need to have self-rule
- No military rule
- “No! “to TPLF/OPDO rule
In response to the political demand “No to the Addis Ababa master plan”, the Oromo Peoples Democratic Organization (OPDO), believed to have been formed by the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) and controlled by the TPLF led Ethiopian government, declared that they would stop the master plan. They also said they would form a study group that would identify the right of the Oromo people to Finfinne. In this paper, I intend to provoke discussion around this point.
Before I identify what constitutes the right of the Oromo people to Finfinne, I want to briefly explore the history and the processes of the making of Finfinne as the Ethiopian capital. In addition, I will explore the wrongs that flowed from making the capital and the discriminatory social policies of consecutive Ethiopian regimes.
Oromia was conquered by the Abyssinian king Menelik II, supported by the European empire builders in 1880s. Soon after the conquest, the wife of the king visited Finfinne then a village and she liked the place and named it Addis Ababa = New Flower. As a result, the name of the Oromo village Finfinne was changed to Addis Ababa and made the Ethiopian capital. The Abyssinian invasion was brutal; many Oromos were killed and some of them were sold into slavery. In addition, from Finfinne and surrounding areas thousands of people were evicted from their homes and until quite recently- they were not allowed to resettle.
This means resulting from the conquest five major wrongs occurred, in Oromia and Finfinne in particular. The first wrong is that Oromo social institutions were banned and their social support systems were delegitimized. The second wrong is that the Oromo people were evicted from their lands with no compensation and forced to flee in different directions. Those who stayed behind became serfs and were forced to provide free labor and give three-quarters of their harvests to the Abyssinians.
Third, Oromo political institutions such as Gadaa were banned and policy making and decision-making powers were left for Abyssinians. Fourth, the Oromo culture, language and religious institutions i.e. Qaalu were banned and replaced with the Abyssinian culture and institutions. The fifth wrong is that the natural forests of Oromia were destroyed and this damaged the natural environment of Oromia. In summary, in the colonial conquest, the social, economic, political, cultural and environmental rights of the Oromo people were violated. This means the rights of the Oromo people to live dignified lives were disregarded.
The violation of the social, economic, political, cultural and environmental rights are known to increase exposure to biological, chemical, physical, psycho-chemical and ergonomic hazards. It is responsible to poverty, diseases higher illiteracy, and lack of clean water. Indeed, the Oromo oral story suggests that evictions from their homeland of Finfinne were not pleasant experiences. Oromos expressed their feelings in phrases such as Garaa nugubatee = Gut-wrenching, Dhukubaa Onee Nuti Ta’e = Heart rending, Boquu Nucabee = Emotionally shattering, Ilkaan Nyaataa Nuhambisse = made us life time grit our teeth. For these reasons, Finfinne (Addis Ababa) also known as Shagari. The word Shagar is derived from the Amharic word ችግር = chigiri, which means hardship. The name Shagari came after the conquest and it is referring to the place where the Oromo people faced extreme hardship.
Ethiopia is one of the founders of the United Nations (UN). However, consecutive Ethiopian regimes never respected the human rights principles on which the UN was formed. The UN promotes the member states respect the inherent dignity of the human person. This necessitates the TPLF leadership to move away from the old colonial and racist mindset, driven to benefit one ethnic group into inclusive politics and guarantee the fair distribution of privileges and risks. To regard the rights of the Oromo people to Finfinne, the wrongs done to them should be recognized and corrected. Recognizing the wrongs and correcting them creates healthy social conditions in which Oromo people and others can live dignified lives.
What are the Rights of Oromo people to Finfinne?
Understanding the problem is halfway in finding the solution; the first step is recognizing the wrongs of the past and present. The second step is respecting the social, economic, political, cultural and environmental rights and allowing the Oromo people to freely exercise their rights and freely rejuvenate their institutions. The third step is correcting those wrongs.
In recognizing the wrongs of the past and present, it is important to recognize that certain sectors of society have benefited/ing from the wrongs perpetuated against the Oromo people. For example, when Oromo social institutions were banned and their social support systems suppressed, they lost the systems that have maintained their social fabric for centuries. By that, as the Oromo people lose their social capital and Abyssinians got better opportunity to build their own. When Oromos are evicted from their homes and farms their economic well-being is negatively affected. Those who benefit from the eviction are Abyssinians who settled on the Oromo land. When Oromo cultural rights are violated, many Abyssinian elites benefited from this also. It is for this reason, the Ethiopian government has been subsidizing the Abyssinian culture and knowledge. This made mastering the Abyssinian culture a rewarding profession. This allowed as the Abyssinian culture thrives the Oromo culture to decline. There are cases where Oromo individuals have contributed major roles to the development of Abyssinian art and culture. Those Oromo nationals, who have contributed to the development of Abyssinian art and culture, would have rather contributed to the development of Oromo art and culture if the rights of Oromo people had been respected.
As Oromo political rights were violated, Oromo political institutions such as Gada and Siiqee were banned or their importance has reduced. As a result, the Oromo people have been denied the right to decide on their affairs, develop their own policies, identify their social problems and make efforts to solve these problems. As Oromo political rights were violated, the Abyssinians imposed their monarchial and dictatorial rule of law, a law designed to benefit the Abyssinian elites. For example, Siiqee is an Oromo women’s institution, organized to bring checks and balances into gender relations. Banning the Siiqee institution and imposing Abyssinian culture and institution on the Oromo people has deepened male domination.
Recognizing the wrongs of the past and present with regard to the environment means accepting differences in the ways the Oromo people and Abyssinians see and care the environment. The Oromo worldview about the environment is more sustainable. Correcting entails allowing the development of environmental policies based on the Oromo world views. The next questions are: How can these wrongs corrected? What are the theoretical foundations or the moral reasoning on which these rights should be corrected? Before I suggest the ways those wrongs should be corrected, I want to briefly discuss the theoretical foundation on which my argument is based.
The Oromo people in general and the Tulama clan and the Galaan sub-clan in particular are indigenous to Finfinne and surrounding area. No moral or legal theories can deny that Oromos are indigenous to Finfinne. Regarding the right of Oromo people to Finfinne is to undo the possible wrongful damages. Therefore, we need to apply the indigenous rights theory and practices to understand the political demands of the Oromo people and work to undo the wrongful damages. This implies that all the social, economic, political, cultural and environmental wrongs should be corrected or repaired and from now onward all policies should be framed in consistency with the views, perspectives and aspirations of the Oromo people. All the development projects should be geared to first benefit the Oromo people. Job opportunities should give priority to employing the Oromo people. Bring Finfinne back under Oromia’s jurisdiction as it belongs to the Oromo people both geographically and historically. Enough seats should be allocated in the political policy making positions to Oromo nationals.
The population of the Oromo people in Finfinne constitutes about twenty percent. In their own city the Oromos are the second largest ethno/national group. The evictions and the discriminatory policies of the Ethiopian government policies are responsible for the fewer number of Oromos in Finfinne. Therefore, correcting the wrong should include subsidizing the resettlement of Oromo people in Finfinne.
When it comes to the violation of cultural rights, correcting the wrong should include making the Oromo language the second official language and guaranteeing the Oromo people the right to educate their children in school in their language so they can transfer their knowledge and wisdom. Given that the Oromo language and Oromo religion (Waqefaata) has been banned, many Oromos today who were born and raised in Finfinne do not speak the Oromo language and practice their ancestral religion. Hence, correcting the wrong should include funding adult education and creating favorable conditions for many Oromos who do not speak Oromo language to be able to learn their own native tongue. This includes subsidizing the building of Galma (the place where Waqefaatas meet for prayer) and creating favorable conditions for the teaching of Waqefaata to freely flourish.
I end my arguments asking my readers to think the ways we can correct the wrongs of the past and present and then develop transformative policies and guarantee Finfinne to be multi-cultural and equitable city.
Begna F. Dugassa
 Begna Dugassa, Ph.D., promotes human rights and health. He researches and writes in human rights and public health. His recent work is published in the Journal of Preventive Medicine in February 2016. The title of the article: Free Media as the Social Determinants of Health: The Case of Oromia Regional State in Ethiopia.