The Horn of Africa, which comprises primarily the countries of Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, and the Sudan, is the ancestral home of the Cushitic people. The region has been the primal home of homo sapien and an early outpost of human civilization.The Oromo constitute the largest Cushitic group in all of Africa. Their population is estimated at some 30 million, a good half of the total population of the Ethiopian state. Despite policies persistently followed by successive autocratic governments of Ethiopia in the past to change the demographic composition of regions through resettlement schemes and forced assimilation, each national group has maintained a distinct cultural identity of its own with its own language and its own separate and well-defined territory throughout the millennia.The Oromo people have a distinct culture and language of their own. They are a fiercely egalitarian people that have lived under a remarkable and complex indigenous democratic system known as Gada--in which political, military and other leaders including legal experts are elected for non-renewable eight-year term from among males who excel during five eight-year long grades of continuous training. That the Oromo culture and the symbols of egalitarian Gada democratic government and other institutions have continuously endured the last 105 years of continuous open and clandestine war by foreign forces is a remarkable testimony to the endurance of the Oromo cultural identity and democratic heritage. The Oromo people are followers of three major religions: Islam, Christian, and indigenous Oromo religion. Because of their democratic heritage, there is no religious extremism or intolerance among the people.The second cultural group in Ethiopia, the Habasha (Abyssinians) consisting of the Amhara (approximately 16%) and the Tigray (less than 5%), although they are not from Cushitic Origin, have somewhat successfully developed an "Ethiopian" mythology that portrays the Cushite Oromo as latecomers into the land of their own origin. They refer to the Oromo by the pejorative Amhara term "Galla" (heathen/uncultured) and also completely distort Oromo history and culture. Contrary to accounts fabricated by this group and echoed by their hired pens, the evidence is quite strong that virtually all of the historical credits amassed generically upon "Ethiopians" were all references to the ancient Cushites. The birth of the human race (4.4 million years ago), the fashioning of the first pebble tools (70,000 years ago), the discovery and domestication of wild animals (8000 years ago), in fact, the very nomenclature of "Ethiopia" itself translated into "Cush" in Hebraic and Egyptian annals, were all ancient Cushitic heritage.The opening of the Suez Canal in 1868 increased the geopolitical significance of the region. During the "scramble for Africa", the major colonial masters--Great Britain, France and Italy-- unwilling to relinquish exclusive control of this strategically significant region to any one power among them, decided to share it. Italy colonized Eritrea in 1889 and Southern Somaliland in 1892. The British colonized Northern Somaliland in 1885, and France took Djibouti in 1884. Sudan was conquered and made an Anglo-Egyptian "condominium" in 1898. Once the peoples of the Horn were brought under domination by external forces, they were subjected to a cruel policy of divide-and-rule that incited feuds and hostilities among peoples of the region.The modern Ethiopian empire state was created by the conquest of emperor Menelik II of the Shewa Amhara dynasty (1889-1913). Menelik was the only successful black African partner in the "scramble for Africa" designed by the European powers in the Berlin Conference of 1884-5. The three major colonial powers competed to use Menelik as a client to widen their spheres into the richer and historically impenetrable prize of the hinterland of northeast Africa. Menelik, aware of the inter-imperial rivalry, feigned special friendship with each one to acquire such massive modern European weaponry that by the mid 1 880's he had transformed his army into one of the largest and strongest in the region, so much so that by 1889, he felt confident enough to send out a circular to the Great Powers asking for his own booty of the Horn far beyond his Amhara enclave to include the Oromo, Somali, Afar, Sidama, Omotic, Nilotic and Southern areas, spreading well beyond the confines of modern Ethiopia.At no time before the conquest by Menelik was the present day Ethiopia a single country. What existed were independent polities--kingdoms in Abyssinia to the north, various confederacies in Oromia and others under the Gada system, the southern kingdoms of Walayita, Kaficho, and Yem, and various communal systems in the Nilotic and Omotic regions. The official Ethiopian history that, echoed by some less critical scholars, presents Menelik's era as "the unification of Ethiopia" is a fabrication, pure and simple. As in the rest of colonial Africa, the Oromo and other southern peoples were subjugated, their peace, their cultural identities and human dignity deprived.The conquest of the south took Menelik forty years.The critical role played by the European armament and technical assistance in the subjugation of the Oromo was recorded by Earl Lytton, a British diplomat then in Ethiopia, who wrote in his book The Stolen Desert-Firms:
"Without massive European help, the Galla (Oromo) would not have been conquered at all. Menelik seems to have operated with French technicians, French map makers, French advice on the management of a standing army, and more French advice as to holding captured province with permanent garrisons of conscripted colonial troops. The French also armed his troops with firearms and did much else to organize his campaigns. The Galla (Oromo) were thus conquered by Abyssinians for the first time in recorded history."
Millions of Oromos were exterminated by carnage of war, millions were taken away and sold into slavery, and hundreds of thousands perished by war-induced famine. By the end of it all, half of the Oromo population--estimated at about 10 million during the late 19th century--was exterminated. It was a genocide.The Oromo and other peoples of the south who survived the genocide were subjected by Menelik to the most dehumanizing form of domination. Their land was confiscated and divided among Minelek's war- lords, the clergy, and "colonial troops" known as "naftenya". The warlords, "naftenyas" and the clergy were entitled to personal servitude of the subject people, and to collect dues often to the tune of 75% of the produce of the subjects who had absolutely no legal protection against the conquerors.
When Emperor Haile Selassie came to power, he tried to consolidate and perpetuate Amhara domination with Tigray as a junior partner. A highly repressive centralism was engineered to design and carry out a policy of Amharization under the mask of Ethiopianization. The subjugated peoples of the South were inflicted cultural genocide. European jurists were employed to draw up a legal system that defined and protected the rights of the oppressors. American legal experts assisted in formulating a highly centralized system of government designed to effectively exercise a repressive rule. Technical assistance poured in to bolster the emperor's policy of social engineering; strong military and security forces were built to suppress resistance to national domination.Emperor Haile-Selassie's policy of repressive centralism did not successfully weld a nation state. It fostered more hatred, wrath and enmity. In the case of the Oromo who were more brutalized, not one decade passed without uprisings against their oppressors. Their effort was repeatedly frustrated largely through decisive willed or unwitting intervention by foreign powers.It is a historical fact that, despite unquestioning military and economic support from the entire western alliance, emperor Haile Selassie's attempt to perpetuate Amhara domination under the guise of Ethiopianization failed disastrously.
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