By Shiferaw Abebe
Following its 4th regular session early this month, the OLF National Council issued a communiqué wherein it calls upon “all the forces opposed to the dictatorial regime of the TPLF to struggle for liberation, freedom, democracy, the rule of law, peace, and prosperity.” The communiqué states that there is “no more option left except to rise up in unison and struggle to get rid of the tyrannical minority rule.”
To this end, the Council instructs to “set our priorities in order and forge a meaningful alliance against the TPLF rule.” Then the Communiqué states that OLF is ready for “a meaningful cooperation and alliance with serious political organizations fighting and struggling for liberation democracy, the rule of law, and human rights and human dignity for all the peoples in Ethiopia.”
Is there anything new or grand about the above pronouncement? Does one see any change in form or substance that could make this communiqué a different read from what one can glean from OLF’s mission and policy statements on the OLF website? Nope. The So-called Council is still singing from the same old song book. OLF still maintains that the Oromo people are a people in Ethiopia, not a people of Ethiopia. The not so-subtle difference between the notions of “peoples in Ethiopia” and the “people of Ethiopia” actually makes all the difference between OLF and other opposition forces that are fighting to build a better Ethiopia for everyone. The fact that the Council listed liberation along with democracy, the rule of law and human rights does not camouflage the true color of OLF or its mission which remains to be the “liberation of Oromia from the Colonial empire of Abysinnia.”
So the natural question is why on earth should other opposition forces, which consider themselves Ethiopian and want to see a united, democratic and strong Ethiopia get into an alliance with an organization that doesn’t see itself or the Oromo people as Ethiopian? Why should Ethiopians who stand against TPLF’s ethnocentric policies form an alliance with an organization whose stated mission is dismembering their country? At a time when coalitions such as Medrek are declaring the advent of a new form of alliance where respect of both individual and group rights can be pursued and achieved within a united and democratic Ethiopia, why should one entangle itself with an organization such as the OLF that clearly pictures a different Ethiopia post TPLF rule?
Now one may argue that OLF doesn’t mean what it has put in black and white on its website, which is the liberation of Oromia from Abyssinia. One may say that the leadership needs to continue to use same liberation message (i.e., lying about it) to keep their rank and file intact. If this is how the OLF leadership handles openness with its rank and file regarding a major policy shift , that in itself should be highly disconcerting to anyone who contemplates to enter into any form of alliance with this organization. At any rate, sorting out OLF’s rank and file issues is OLF’s own responsibility. What other organizations should demand from OLF from the outset is to come clean and openly clear on where it stands on such a fundamental question as the unity and integrity of Ethiopia. With anything less, OLF would be a liability to any coalition it might enter into even if one were to believe that OLF has moved from its historical stance on the issue of unity.
The option for OLF has been very clear since it left or was kicked out of the coalition government back in the early 1990s: to either align its struggle with the rest of Ethiopians who are victimized under the same regime to bring about a political system that would allow nationalities or ethnic groups to exercise their legitimate rights within a united Ethiopia, or to remain an exile secessionist organization, forever giving false claims and hopes to its ever fracturing membership. For close two decades, OLF’s choice has been the latter. Three regimes have changed hands in Ethiopia since OLF came into existence. As an organization, OLF is the same age as, if not older than, TPLF. But look where TPLF is now and where OLF is. Even when one may say that TPLF no longer represents the people of Tigray, it has perhaps done more to the people of Tigray from the Minilik Palace than what OLF could dream all night for the Oromo people from the capitals of Western nations.
After close to four decades of existence, OLF is not closer to, indeed is further away from achieving its stated goal. Each day it is not getting stronger but weaker and less relevant. So, at this point, it has neither the moral nor the material leverage to entice anyone to enter into an alliance with it as long as it sticks with the same old political agenda. The future is more unlikely to reward OLF with better results if it stays on the same track.
One wonders why OLF is not doing the one right thing once for its life, namely, come up with true and realistic goals and aspirations for the Oromo people and for Ethiopia in general, close ranks with other opposition organizations in a truly new and lasting alliance, and fight to get the country rid of the TPLF repressive and regressive regime to build a free, democratic and prosperous Ethiopia where all people of Ethiopia will live in harmony and economic prosperity?
One plausible explanation could be OLF’s utterly exaggerated, if not entirely false, sense of exclusive tenure to the cause of the Oromo people and consequently its misplaced pride in the purity of its stance, namely the “liberation of Oromia from the Colonial Empire of Abysinnia.” Otherwise, why should OLF still maintain the colonial theory and liberation objective when other Oromo political organizations are fighting for the cause of the Oromo people within a united Ethiopia?
When the current regime took power in 1991, it declared that Ethiopia would no longer be a prison of nations and nationalities. Forget that this was a preposterous notion, but even if one were to believe this notion in 1991, 19 years is too long a period of time not to re-evaluate this notion against the reality now on the ground. The unquestionable reality is that it is actually now or over the last 19 years that Ethiopia has been made a prison of Oromo activists, students, and elders. Previous regimes have not arrested a fraction of the number of Oromos that have now congested the Kaliti Prison. However, it would be a gross misperception, once again, to think that only Oromos are languishing in TPLF’s prisons. Equal, if not more, numbers of non-Oromos are sharing those same prisons. Their common enemy is the authoritarian regime that wields power not by the will of the people but by its military and security might.
Looking forward, what the Oromo people want is to become makers of the Ethiopian destiny, not just their own destiny as an ethnic group. One is not complete without the other. What the Wollega Oromo wants in life is not fundamentally different from what an Amhara in Gojjam wants. Both want equality and a fair opportunity to take part and derive benefits from the economies of their regions and their country at large. Both wants to promote and exercise their culture, to preserve and share the good of their identity, which together with the culture of other people of Ethiopia makes Ethiopia a mosaic of cultures. Each wants, democracy, unfettered participation in the political life of their respective regions and their country. Each wants peace and prosperity to raise children and leave them a better legacy and opportunity. This is the kind of vision on which a meaningful alliance should be built up on among Ethiopian opposition forces.
Many Ethiopians would like to see OLF playing a constructive part in the political struggle to build a better Ethiopia for all. Many Ethiopian opposition organizations have in the past responded generously to OLF’s slightest gestures of moving away from its longstanding stance. The recent, now defunct, Alliance for Freedom and Democracy is one example. But OLF has proved to be incapable of extricating itself from the past and formulate a realistic and functional political program for the future. Until it does so, its call for any form of alliance will not and should not get a sympathetic ear. The ball is still in OLF’s court.
(The writer can be reached at [email protected])