“Oromo Democratic Front (ODF) Declares Commitment to Work with Others towards a Democratic, Multi-national Ethiopia: Is this the Same “New Ethiopia” We in the SMNE Envision?”
I believe the ODF, and its new vision, could be part of the answer to the serious division among the Ethiopian opposition groups. This is a good beginning and worth applauding. During the meeting, ODF leadership clearly explained their objectives as advocates not only for the Oromo, but also for the “freedom and justice for all individuals and nations.” They explained that the change in focus was “motivated by the universal principle that struggling for justice for oneself alone without advocating justice for all could ultimately prove futile because ‘“injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”’
I do believe it is legitimate to protect the rights of your own ethnic people; exposing injustices and working towards the resolution of these grievances, especially in a country where no one speaks on behalf of others; however, we will know we have a much healthier society when we advocate for the rights of others and readily correct wrongs. These others can be from tiny subgroups of people or from large majority groups. They can be fellow members of our society that agree with us or those who dispute our positions. In a free society, those unlike us still deserve respect and equal rights. This is why it was so gratifying to hear Oromo leaders say they will not be speaking only for Oromo, but for everybody; and that from here on, the ODF will be a body that will work with others to bring lasting change to all Ethiopians.
Some in the audience challenged this new position. One man summed up the opinion of a number of attendees as they sought to better understand the change of direction. The man asked, “For the last 40 years, we’ve been told that Ethiopians in power were colonizers and imperialists and we have been dreaming about having our own country, but now you are saying we can work from within? Why the change the course we have been on?”
One of the leaders, Mr. Leenco Lata, respectfully explained, “I cannot preach what is unachievable. It cannot work in Ethiopia. If Oromia was to become a country, the entire region would be in chaos. Oromia is everywhere. What are you going to do with Gambella, Southern Nations and Benishangul?
It will be best to fix the country from within so we all have a democratic country in which to live. The Oromo don’t have to think like we are a victim or act like we are a minority. We are not a minority but a majority. We will not forget the historical chapter, but we have to start a new chapter where we work together with everybody to create an Ethiopia for everybody.”
This new ODF initiative is what was envisioned four years ago when the SMNE was established. Our history of having an Ethiopia for only one or a few tribes—while all the rest struggle—must be ended. The only Ethiopia that will bring sustainable peace and prosperity is one where the humanity of each and every person, regardless of any differences, is not only valued, but also cared for, nurtured and protected. One’s own freedom, justice and empowerment are only sustainable when the same is given to others for “no one is free until all are free.”
The widespread application of these principles will make Ethiopia a home rather than the prison described by the ODF that makes us hunger for personal and collective freedom. Lasting change requires much dialogue, acknowledging the grievances of other people, the restoration of justice, the empowerment of our citizens at every level and reconciliation. Our goal is not to defeat, crush or root out the enemy as was said during the Dergue, but we must work to find ways to transform our country.
Through such dialogue we can talk about why the majority of various ethnic groups will not end up having their particular language as one of the national languages of the country because we have over 80 different languages. In the case of the Oromo language, it makes strong sense that it becomes a second national language because forty million of our people speak it. English may become another of its languages. There are examples of some countries functioning well with more than one language, like Canada or Switzerland; however, it is important to keep in mind that language is meant to be an instrument to advance communication. Through dialogue we can find ways to figure this all out, including how to bring new inclusion to the minorities and to the marginalized—like Ethiopian women, the disabled, the uneducated and others whose voices must be included.
With respectful dialogue, we can find workable solutions to our differences and grievances rather than dividing the country or seeing other people as our enemies. This is the time to talk to each other rather than talking about each other. In the last 20 years the only thing we have done, which was also advanced by the TPLF/EPRDF, was for some Oromo to talk about the Amhara and what they have done and for some Amhara to talk about the Oromo, decrying them as refusing to let go of what Menelik had done to them. In other cases, some Ethiopians do not openly say it, but they discriminate against some they do not consider to be “real Ethiopians” by not giving them opportunity. The people of the Omo Valley are good examples of that discrimination. Fortunately, more of us are realizing that there is no 99% Ethiopian; but instead that every one of us is fully Ethiopian.
We also must realize that there is no ethnic group that cannot claim being oppressed at some time; however, the name “Ethiopia” and the flag of Ethiopia have never oppressed the people. It has been the few elite in power and the dictatorial systems they set up which have oppressed us. There is no “us” and “them” in this land for we are one people. There is no need to separate the country when we can solve our differences through a genuine dialogue. The ODF are now promising to do this.
From the very beginning, the SMNE has always sought to work with anyone and any group who honestly was willing to advance the betterment of humanity rather than using these principles disingenuously while holding onto a hidden agenda. As the ODF begins to advocate for all Ethiopians, they are “putting humanity before ethnicity” and endorsing the belief that sustainable freedom will never come to the Oromo until it comes to all Ethiopians. I enthusiastically commend them on a job well done and look forward to the fruit of this contribution. We in the SMNE will do whatever we can to work with them and hope that others, including the TPLF, will come to the realization that this is the only way forward that gives us all a future.
To accomplish these goals, we must acknowledge the historical past with its injustice towards different groups of people, but we must also look forward to building a better future. We should also be willing to give up something for a bigger cause. There is a price to be paid for a better future. It will cost us something which may include forgiveness, humility, compromise, and putting behind us some of our past grievances.
The Ethiopia we have now is not good for anyone; for example: the unemployment, the locking up of Oromo and many others, the displacement of the people like the Amhara and others from their land, the outflow of Ethiopian women to the Middle East as maids, the lack of a future with hope in Ethiopia which should make us think about why we are choosing to work as factions rather than together.We must ask why we are settling for so little when we could collaborate by doing our share rather than giving the burden to only a few. Together we could create a better country—more unified than divided, more livable than inhospitable and more caring about others than selfish about our own interests.
If each of us really took the initiative and was willing to commit to doing our share, we could be able to create a better Ethiopia rather than a beggar Ethiopia. Imagine if the two major ethnic groups, the Oromo and the Amhara, would stand together as one people for the future of all of us!
Imagine if the Ethiopian youth saw themselves as human beings first rather than as a tribe and could stand together as future leaders of one Ethiopia rather than as one tribe making Ethiopia their own playground for their own tribal interests. Imagine all the Ethiopian women reconciling and working together as mothers who do not favor one child over another.
Imagine Ethiopia’s religious leaders, like the Ethiopian Orthodox, the Evangelical Christians, the Ethiopian Muslims, Ethiopian Jews, animists and non-believers coming together as people of moral character to promote love, compassion, peace, honesty, integrity, good relations and respect for freedom and justice.
The evidence that the ODF and others are genuine will be seen in how they embrace others. Imagine an Oromo speaking up on behalf of the displaced Amhara, condemning it. Imagine an Amhara speaking up on behalf of the Oromo who have been unjustly imprisoned just for being Oromo.
Imagine a Christian condemning the mistreatment of the Muslim. Imagine the Muslim doing the same thing on behalf of the Christians. Imagine if every group did this for others. Who would not want to live in such a country?
This kind of Ethiopia would be much better than some of the countries where so many of our young people are running to in hopes of finding a better life, but too often are suffering or dying on the way.
The hope for a better future is within each of us. With God’s help, He can transform us and use us as tools to transform our country. It is a matter of putting these hopes and dreams into action. May God help more of us to realize, like the ODF, that we are one family, the Ethiopian family.
May God help us not to be so judgmental and stubbornly fixed in our prejudices, but instead to open our hearts to accept each other; helping us to break down the barriers of suspicion that have kept us fighting each other and struggling to survive while a tiny minority has taken the power and are thriving at the expense of all of us.
May God help us to find a way to also embrace them, not excluding them either for they are a product of past mistakes and thinking. If they change, we need to accept them as well for no one is free until we all are free. May the God who loves each of us, help us to see the beauty He created in our Ethiopian brothers and sisters.
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I am appealing to each of you to forward it to all your friends. If you do, you will not just be giving a voice to our beautiful people, but you would be doing justice to our humanity. Knowing the truth is overcoming the first obstacle to freedom!
Thanks so much for your never-ending support. Don’t give up. Keep your focus on the bigger picture and reach out to others and listen! Care about those who are suffering. Think about our family of Ethiopians and humanity throughout the world—they are YOU! There is no “us” or “them.” This is at the heart of the SMNE.
Executive Director of SMNE