Oromummaa as Oromo National Culture, Identity and Ideology

Explaining Oromummaa intelligently and clearly requires at least five levels of conceptualization: at the first level, having a basic form of Oromummaa means to manifest Oromoness by practicing some aspects of Oromo culture, language, belief systems, values, norms, customs, and traditions. An Oromo automatically develops this form of Oromummaa because of the influence of Oromo extended families and community institutions. Hence, every Oromo, if not totally assimilated to another culture, has the basic form of Oromummaa. On the basic level, most Oromo, except the totally assimilated ones, speak the same language called Afaan Oromoo, claim a common historical and cultural background, and face similar challenges of Ethiopian colonial terrorism, repression, cultural domination, exploitation, and humiliation. Most Oromo manifest basic Oromummaa in their cultural values, norms, and belief systems that have been encoded in and expressed by Afaan Oromoo, which unites all Oromo branches as one people/one nation. Therefore, the Oromo language is the main carrier of the essence and features of Oromo culture, tradition, history, and peoplehood.

Since the Ethiopian colonizers have failed to destroy Afaan Oromoo and replace it by their own language, Amharic or Tigre they have been unable to successfully suppress this most basic form of Oromummaa. As a result, Oromummaa has survived in scattered forms for more than a century since the conquest of Menelik. Oromummaa as the total expression of Oromo peoplehood has developed from the historical, cultural, religious, and philosophical experiences of the Oromo society. As a self- and collective schema, Oromummaa encapsulates a set of fundamental beliefs, values, moral codes, and guiding principles that shape the Oromo national identity and make the Oromo society different from other societies. Consequently, basic Oromummaa is built on personal, interpersonal, and collective connections. Currently, the Tigrayan-led Ethiopian colonial government that claims that it has allowed cultural autonomy for the Oromo and others actually opposes the manifestation of basic and other forms of Oromummaa. According to the November 2014 report of Amnesty International entitled “Because I am Oromo,” “Expression of Oromo culture and heritage have been interpreted as manifestations of dissent, and the government has also shown signs of fearing cultural expression as a potential catalyst for opposition to the government. Oromo singers, writers and poets have been arrested for allegedly criticizing the government and/or inciting people through their work. People wearing traditional Oromo clothing has been arrested at Oromo traditional festivals.”

One of the reasons why the regime’s security forces massacred more than seven hundred Oromo, who colorfully dressed in Oromo clothing, at the 2016 Irreecha festival at Hora Arsadi, Bishoftu was the fear of Oromo culture, identity and nationalism. The Ethiopian colonialists have been attacking the individual psyche and biography of the Oromo, as well as their collective culture and history. These attacks have been carried out through various forms of violence, including colonial terrorism. In order to make the Oromo people submissive and control and exploit their labor and economic resources, successive Ethiopian colonial governments have used different forms of violence that have resulted in genocidal massacres and societal and cultural destruction. Until national Oromummaa (the second level) emerged, basic Oromummaa primarily remained at the personal and interpersonal levels because the Oromo were denied the opportunity to form and maintain national institutions. They have been also denied a formal education and free institutional spaces by successive Ethiopian governments, which have not tolerated the existence of independent Oromo leadership, institutions and organizations.

The Ethiopian colonialists have also expropriated Oromo economic resources such as land and destroyed Oromo institutions, cultural experts, and leaders. Oppressors don’t only want to control the oppressed economically, culturally, and politically; they want also to control their minds, thus ensuring the effectiveness of domination. The mental control of the oppressed causes personal and collective damage. The mental enslavement of Oromo collaborative elites is the major reason why the Oromo people who comprise almost half of the population in the Ethiopian Empire are brutalized, murdered, and terrorized by the minority Tigrayan colonial elites. The Oromo collaborators have lost their Oromo norms and values through the process of Ethiopianization and suffer from an inferiority complex. Without the emancipation of Oromo individuals and groups from this inferiority complex and without overcoming the ignorance and the worldviews that the enemies of the Oromo have imposed on them, the Oromo collaborative class lack the self-confidence necessary to facilitate individual liberation and Oromo emancipation. Ethiopian Colonialism was and is maintained by engaging in mental genocide, cultural destruction, and the assimilation of a sector of the Oromo population that has lost its basic sense of Oromummaa. The Ethiopian colonialists have denied the Oromo opportunities to develop the Oromo system of knowledge by preventing the transmission of Oromo cultural experiences from generation to generation.

All of these have been designed to uproot basic Oromummaa in order to produce individuals and groups who lack self-respect and are submissive and ready to serve the colonialists at the cost of their own people. The Ethiopian colonialists have caused the physical death of millions, and further attempted to introduce social and cultural death to the Oromo by suppressing their basic Oromummaa and by preventing them from developing Oromo nationalism. Those who have lost their basic Oromummaa developed inferiority complex and self-hatred that Ethiopian colonialism had introduced to them, and they have becomes the tools of the Ethiopian colonial state. To ensure its colonial domination, the Ethiopian state has destroyed or suppressed Oromo institutions while glorifying, establishing, and expanding the Amhara-Tigrayan institutions such as government and Orthodox Christianity in Oromia and beyond. This state has also sought to suppress Oromo history, culture, and language while promoting that of the Abyssinians/Ethiopians. The main reason for suppressing or destroying the major Oromo institutions was/is to prevent the transmission of the Oromo system of knowledge and wisdom, the Oromo belief systems and cultural norms from generation to generation and to stop “each new generation engaging creatively with the circumstances in which they found themselves to find expression for the core values in the way they organized themselves.”

Since some Oromo elites who have passed through Ethiopian colonial institutions including schools and military have not yet achieved psychological and cognitive liberation, they consciously or unconsciously prefer to work for their Ethiopian colonial masters rather than working as a team on the Oromo liberation project. Some Oromo intermediaries who have passed through the Ethiopian colonial education system have been de-Oromized and Ethiopianized, and have opposed the Oromo struggle for national liberation. Colonial education mainly creates some submissive leaders that facilitate underdevelopment through subordination and exploitation. Such intermediaries lack basic Oromummaa, and even collaborate with the Ethiopian colonial state in killing, torturing and imprisoning Oromo nationalists who have embraced different levels of Oromummaa. Oromummaa as a conceptual and theoretical framework is elastic and expands to a political arena. Therefore, an Oromo, who has an Oromummaa as a national ideology, is somewhat different on the level of political knowledge and consciousness from other Oromo who did not yet develop this ideology or Oromo nationalism. The combined process of developing the Oromo nationalist ideology and engaging in the struggle for national self-determination is the second level of Oromummaa.

Between the first and the second levels of Oromummaa, however, there is a stage of having political awareness. Most Oromo have started to develop national political awareness in 1991, when the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) joined the Transition government of Ethiopia dominated by the Tigrayan Liberation Front (TPLF) that was then supported by its Godfather, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front, the governments of Sudan and the USA. The West has been supporting the TPLF financially, militarily, technologically, and diplomatically. At the second level, Oromummaa is seen as a nationalist ideology that attempts to mobilize the entire Oromo people for restoring their national culture, history, identity, language, human dignity, and freedoms that Ethiopian colonialism has destroyed or suppressed for more than a century. At this level of Oromummaa, Oromo political awareness is transformed into Oromo nationalism and enables Oromo individuals, families, groups, and communities to comprehend the illegitimacy, evilness, and criminality of Ethiopian colonialism and to struggle for their national liberation. In other words, Oromummaa as the nationalist ideology empowers Oromo to build and strengthen their ideological determination, solidarity, and capabilities to define, defend, and struggle for the Oromo national cause.

More or less, the ideology of national Oromummaa increases the determination of Oromo individuals, groups and communities to be ready for paying a sacrifice of different forms and levels including sacrificing lives for the Oromo national cause. Basic sacrifices include joining Oromo associations, investing in Oromo material and intellectual products, and spending time, energy, and money to promote the Oromo national cause. Levels of sacrifices depend on the level of national Oromummaa consciousness as well as commitment. There have been Oromo nationalists who have been killed or tortured and imprisoned while struggling to liberate their people and country. Without developing the national Orommummaa ideology, it is impossible to raise Oromo political consciousness in order to organize and build a formidable leadership and organizational capacity that can challenge and defeat the Ethiopian colonial state that is supported by global powers. Oromummaa as the Oromo nationalist ideology defines and promotes the Oromo political, material and cultural interests in order to develop an Oromo political community and transform it into a state through destroying all powers and ideologies, mainly Ethiopianism, which have been keeping the Oromo society under political slavery by all possible ways.

According to Antonio Gramsci, political domination is practiced through ideological hegemony. Ethiopianism as an ideological hegemony has been imposed on the Oromo via physical coercion including terrorism and mental genocide and other political and cultural mechanisms. All forms of domination, including colonial domination, cannot be practiced without imposing “a structure of meaning that [reflects] its leading beliefs, values, and ideas;” the process through which the dominated internalizes the ideology, worldview, culture, and mentality of the rulers as natural order is called ideological hegemony. In order to consolidate the Oromo national movement, it is necessary to recognize its current ideological inadequacies and overcome them. Oromummaa as a theory of liberation refutes false or biased knowledge and challenges reactionary narratives that naturalize and justifies colonialism and all forms of social hierarchies, injustices, and exploitation because it is mainly informed by the principles of egalitarian Oromo democracy of gadaa/siqqee system. Furthermore, as a theoretical foundation of the Oromo national movement, Oromummaa with other critical theories enables the Oromo to engage in producing knowledge for critical thinking and liberation to promote egalitarian democracy.

Despite the fact that the development of national Oromummaa is mainly based on the Oromo cultural foundation, it recognizes the importance of multicultural and critical knowledge and theories. Without having the knowledge for liberation that develops cognitive liberation, the Oromo society cannot effectively struggle against the forces of unfreedoms. Also, national Oromummaa as a revolutionary ideology promotes the Oromo struggle to build horizontal organizations through dismantling gender and class hierarchies instead of vertical organizations that buttress injustices and exploitation. This cannot happen without creating and building the third level of Oromummaa that promotes a revolutionary liberation knowledge and cognitive liberation. This stage of Oromummaa requires developing an Oromo epistemology and critical social scientific knowledge that promote a revolutionary transformation by dismantling all reactionary forces that hinder the liberation and democratization of Oromo society. On the fourth level, Oromummaa as a national project mobilizes the nation to build its national culture, history, political economy, sovereignty, and ethos that are the markers and emblem of the Oromo nation. Developing this kind of project requires the knowledge of Oromo history and culture for many centuries, critically and thoroughly understanding Oromo and global politics, and predicting and assessing possible scenarios for the future of the Oromo nation.

Oromo nationalists not only need to know about the Oromo past and the current condition, but they also need to develop policies that will help them in developing Oromo national culture, ideology and action. Based on the accumulated past traditions, knowledge, and wisdom, Oromummaa introduces an ideological and theoretical innovation and facilitates the emergence and development of new cultural elements. As Antonio Gramsci explains, “Creating a new culture does not only mean one’s own individual ‘original’ discoveries. It also … means the diffusion in a critical form of truths already discovered … and even making them the basis of vital action, an element of coordination and intellectual and moral order.” In reviving the best Oromo cultural elements, Oromo nationalist intellectuals have a central role to play; such scholars must unearth the Oromo past and provide a critical theoretical guidance for the future of Oromo society. Again, Gramsci asserts that “one could only have cultural stability and an organic quality of thought if there had existed the same unity between the intellectuals and the simple as there should be between theory and practice. That is, if the intellectuals had been organically the intellectuals of those masses, and if they had worked out and made coherent the principles and the problems raised by the masses in their practical activity, thus constituting a cultural and social bloc.”

Without being limited by disciplinary boundaries, Oromo organic intellectuals need to form research working groups, study circles, policy advocacy groups and other bodies to critically and thoroughly study Oromo national problems and produce various white papers that can be disseminated among Oromo communities in Oromia and the diaspora through various outlets. The Oromo people have been chained mentally and psychologically by Ethiopian ignorance, evilness, and darkness that must be smashed by the liberation knowledge of critical Oromo studies and human-centric critical knowledge of the world. Oromo organic intellectuals need to develop white papers based on series of research projects that can be presented to Oromo communities on various subjects such as cultural and social capital, Oromummaa and its various aspects, knowledge for liberation and cognitive liberation, sexism and gender equality, democracy and equity, regional and global politics, Habasha culture and politics, Oromo networks and national conventions, leadership and capacity building, Oromo national institutions such as gadaa/siqqee, irrecha or ireessa, religion and religious diversity, and state building and sustainable development. Mechanisms should be developed to encourage particularly the Oromo youth and women to participate on forums, workshops, discussion groups, and study circles.

The fifth level of Oromummaa, which can be called global Oromummaa, expands the principles of freedom, justice for all, national self-determination and egalitarian multinational democracy beyond the Oromo nation. Using the philosophy safuu (moral and ethical order), global Oromummaa promotes horizontal and democratic relations among various peoples, who have been colonized and brutalized by the Ethiopian colonial state in general and the Tigrayan-led colonial state in particular. Furthermore, since this Oromummaa is about uprooting unfreedoms and establishing a just, democratic, and peaceful society, the Oromo national movement is totally against revenge and hate of any peoples including the colonizing nation of Tigray. Therefore, the Oromo national movement also struggles to demonstrate to the oppressing nations the importance of organizing societies horizontally and democratically rather than hierarchically and dictatorially to establish durable peace and justice. This movement recognizes the significance of restoring the best cultural and democratic elements similar to gadaa/siqqee (Oromo democracy) in the colonized peoples because they are the foundations of building an egalitarian multinational democracy. Overall, the theory of Oromummaa focuses on building strategies and tactics for overcoming unfreedoms and the deficits of leadership and organizational capability.

The Oromo national movement not only needs to build its national leadership and organizational capacity, but also needs to develop strategic visions and political plans for working with other colonized nations who are interested to implement the principles of national self-determination and egalitarian multinational democracy. While Oromo nationalists engage in debates and dialogues for formulating policies that reflect their indigenous democracy, they must also develop political plans that they can share with other peoples who have similar interests for discussion, debate and consensus building. The Oromo nation can play a central role in implementing the principles of national self-determination and multinational democracy provided that it will effectively mobilize its abundant human and economic resources and ally with others to build their human capabilities. In developing national leadership and organizational capacity, emphasize should be given to build organizations and institutions rather than promoting the egos and leadership of individuals to avoid the pitfalls of liberation fronts that won liberation wars but failed to build healthy and effective democratic societies. The disasters of the Eritrean and Tigrayan liberation fronts are living examples. They only won the wars against the Ethiopian state and eventually became its photocopy.

Developing a united, skillful, knowledgeable, and determined leadership that believes truly in democratic principles and hard work is very crucial for the advancement and success of the Oromo and other national movements in the empire. For the Oromo society, without building the kind of leadership and organization that reflect the Oromo democratic and consultative traditions, it is impossible to effectively and fully develop national Oromummaa and mobilize and organize the Oromo to liberate themselves. The same is true for the other colonized societies. Those Oromo leaders who created the Maaca-Tuulama Self-Help Association and the OLF reflected some Oromo democratic and consultative traditions although such traditions were gradually undermined with external pressures and internal obstacles in the Oromo national movement. If the colonized societies such as the Oromo cannot develop skills, knowledge and capabilities to promote and exercise freedom and democracy while engaging in liberation struggles, they may not liberate themselves or they may inadvertently replace colonial dictatorships by national ones. Therefore, the Oromo liberation movement and other movements must start to practice freedom and democracy while struggling to overthrow Ethiopian colonial dictatorship.


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