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People’s Call for Unity and Oromo Political Organizations’ Refusal

 People’s Call for Unity and Oromo Political Organizations’ Refusal

Assefa A. Lemu 1-27-19

In his pamphlet titled “What Is to Be Done?” written in 1901 and published in 1902, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin argued that the working class will not become a political power simply by fighting economic battles with employers over wages, working hours, and the like. He said, to become a political power, the working class should form a political party and need to learn about the whole society, not just their own corner of it.  This argument is still valid after more than a century.  To be a political power, having strong organization and knowledge of the whole society by going out of our box is necessary. 

The Oromo people that aspire to be a power in the Horn of Africa and frequently talk about their large numbers, widely spoken language, rich culture of democracy, abundant resources, and educated man power do not have strong political organizations that make them a power. Rather than focusing on the bigger Oromo issues and knowledge of the larger Ethiopian politics and the politics of the Horn of Africa, Oromo political parties have been stuck in village politics and wasting their time, energy, and resources. The number of Oromo political organization which was five in early 1990s multiplied by three in the last two and half decades and reached fifteen.  The confusion they have created also multiplied and reached at the point where most people only identify these Oromo political organizations by their leaders as Dawud Ibsa Group, Lencho Leta Group, Kemal Gelchu Group, Hailu Gonfa Group, Gelasa Dilbo Group, etc.  May be, ODP and OFC are the only two Oromo political organizations that people identify by their correct organizational names. In terms of organization, in the last twenty seven years, Oromo politics showed regression rather than progression.

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According to Dr. S. B. M. Marume , Dr. A. S. Chikasha , and Prof. D. Ndudzo (2016)  “A political party is defined as an organized and presumably durable association, either of individuals or of distinguishable groups of individuals, which endeavors to place its members in governmental offices for the purpose of bringing about the adoption of favored political policies or programs. Of all the characteristics of parties, the one which distinguishes them from all other associations evincing a substantial interest in public affairs is their effort to secure the election or the appointment of their own personnel to the public positions through which the policies of government are prescribed for implementation.” (http://iosrjournals.org/iosr-jmce/papers/vol13-issue4/Version-7/S130407140152.pdf). Unfortunately, except ODP which is part of the ruling EPRDF coalition, we are not seeing the Oromo political organizations seriously working for the adoption of favored political policies or programs and making serious efforts to secure the election or the appointment of their personnel to the public positions. Rather, they are working how to entrap one another and weaken each other. Their focuses are not on the big prize, but on the petty village politics. Rather than making concerted effort to win country level competition, they fight on trivial local issues and weaken each other.  The Oromo people called up on them several times to unite and to get out of village politics and focus on Oromia level and Ethiopia level issues which could bring high value for the Oromo people.

 Per Article 31 of the constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, "Every person has the right to freedom of association for any cause or purpose.[However] organizations formed, in violation of appropriate laws, or to illegally subvert the constitutional order, or which promote such activities are prohibited ".  Enshrining this freedom of association doesn’t mean that Ethiopia or Oromia needs too many political parties.  

As of November 27, 2018, there were/are 81 political parties in Ethiopia (https://www.ena.et/en/2018/11/27/pm-abiy-confers-with-81-political-parties/). Out of these 81 parties, 15 (19%) are Oromo political organizations operating in Oromia. Countries like Nigeria that has 68 registered political Parties for the population of 204 million (  https://punchng.com/political-parties-too-many-may-cause-problems-in-2019-inec/ ) and Southern Sudan that has 22 political parties for  the population of 10 million (http://www.gurtong.net/ECM/Editorial/tabid/124/ctl/ArticleView/mid/519/articleId/4990/Too-Many-Parties-Are-Dangerous.aspx)  expressed their concerns and the problems they faced because of the existence of too many parties in their respective countries. These problems include giving public funds to the parties to do their political activities, registering the parties, and administering elections where these too many political parties participate.

Even though competition usually brings efficiency and innovation, it doesn’t always work well. One of the examples where competition failed to work is in case of competition among Oromo political organizations. The unhealthy competition among Oromo political organizations created enmity and led to war between OLF and ODP in December 2018 and early January 2019.  As the result, the Oromo people who are the victims of the competition between political organizations claiming to work for their interest demanded these organizations either to unite/work together or to engage in productive and healthy competition; unfortunately none of these demands have been implemented.

The functions of political parties are developing policy proposals and mobilizing citizens for the implementation of these police proposals, articulating interests, recruiting competent candidates for elected offices, and serving as a gate keeper of democracy. Having long menu of political parties with redundant political programs is more of liability than benefit.  They spoil the political environment rather than fixing it or making it better. As Hank William said in his music “Too many parties and too many pals”, too many of most of the things is not good. He said “Too many parties and too many pals will break your heart someday; Too many boyfriends and sociable gals may drive your sweetheart away”.  That is what happened to the Oromo people--the existence of too many Oromo political organizations and unhealthy relationship among them broke the hearts of Oromos and drove some of them away from supporting these parties. The speech that Oromo elder Obbo Haile Gabre made on January 14, 2019 at the Assembly of Abba Gadas and Hadha Sinqees to solve the disagreement between embattled ODP and OLF in which he said “if slaughtering  human being is necessary to bring peace between Oromo political organizations, I am willing to be slaughtered” and the wailing of the participants following his speech (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGo6BUFp4e8&t=5932s ) show how much the Oromos are fade up about destructive struggle among Oromo political organizations.

The current competition among the Oromo political organizations looks like the competition among Somali political organizations in early 1990s. The Somali opposition organizations that united against the government of Said Barre during 1988–90, started fighting each other for power after Barre was removed from power on January 26, 1991 and turned Somalia into anarchy. Even though these Oromo political Organization do not have capacities to turn Oromia or Ethiopia to make another Somalia, they may divide Oromos and destabilize Oromia and Ethiopia.  That is what we have witnessed in Wellega where the competition between OLF and ODP resulted in loss of civilian lives, displacements, closure of schools, bank robberies, and burnings of public offices in December 2018 and early January 2019.

The Oromo people want a political party that can articulate Oromo interests, aggregate these interests and bring them to the middle ground and mobilize the people to the attainment of these interests, not stealing political agendas from each other and  fighting on who first generated this or that idea or who first started struggling for Oromo rights. To some extent, ODP tried to articulate the demands of Qerro and Qarre (Oromo youth) and got better support. ODP need to do better of such articulation of Oromo demands.  As Francis Darwin said "…. the credit goes to the man who convinces the world, not to the man to whom the idea first occurs. Not the man who finds a grain of new and precious quality but to him who sows it, reaps it, grinds it and feeds the world on it”. Therefore, if ODP advances Oromo cause (Oromumma) and leads the Oromo people to the attainment of their objectives, it deserve more credit  than its predecessors  who have good intention and tried to implement that good intention for decades but not lucky. As the Amharic saying goes:"Yeberen wuleta wesedew feresi, kehuwalaw tenesto kedmo bemedresi".  Oromo political organizations must accept the reality and shouldn’t fight on who did  what because what is more important is to get the Oromo objective accomplished.

The larger Oromo people also must change their methodology to control the number of political organizations operating in their name to the manageable size.  Under the Oromo Gada system, the number of parties is five. Even though limiting the number of political parties may be considered as limiting the right of citizens and against freedom of association and there is no legal basis to limit the number of political parties operating in Oromia or Ethiopia, Oromo political parties can come together around shared views and interests and bring their numbers down to what is historically acceptable among Oromos. The number of political parties under Gada system must serve as a bench mark for Oromo political parties. If the political parties are not willing to come together, the Oromo people must start singling out those who are working against unity, those who do not have the capacity to articulate Oromo causes and those who are not able to lead Oromo and ostracize them and make them fade away.

In addition to the capacity and willingness problems we observed, we also witnessed unwanted manners regarding etiquette from some of the Oromo political leaders.  Some Oromo political leaders are struggling to sit in front of the television camera with crossed legs like American actors disregarding the modest culture of the Oromo people they want to lead, some of them are revolving in front of the camera on the swivel chairs like kids in a playground distracting the attention of the audience from their messages, and some of them give interviews wearing winter sweaters that they used to wear while they were in Europe.  Oromo political leaders’ disregard of the basic principle of  dressing appropriately or “dress to impress” which is known even by the new college graduates looking for jobs is considered as a disrespect to the people they are addressing and want to represent and led if they are elected.

The leaders of Oromo political parties must know that the Oromo people will evaluate them and their parties based on the alternative policy proposals they offer, the quality of their leadership and their ethics. The expectation to get votes simply by using the word “Oromo” as prefix or suffix is wrong.  Oromos need strong party that presents a coherent policy agenda to the voters. Strong party and coherent policy agenda could be achieved by bringing together resources including human power and coordinating efforts not by thinly dispersing one’s resources and fighting each other. The wish of Oromo people regarding Oromo political parties is to see them united, preferably to become one strong Oromo party. Based on the experience of the last three decades, I don’t think this is possible and good. The viable option is to push these political parties to cluster themselves and reduce their number to the manageable/reasonable size--- five or less. This option makes the Oromo political parties strong and competitive and the votes to get good policy options to choose from.  


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