Oromo people struggle for independence
By Jaraa Aba Sabaa
The Oromo people are the single largest indigenous ethnic group of Africa. They live in east Africa in several countries, but mostly in Oromia, now included in Ethiopia.
The Oromo people are crying out for their freedom but the west continues to ignore these cries. Thousands are killed and many more forced to leave their country. Today there are more than 250,000 Oromo refugees throughout Africa. Some sources suggest that up to 20,000 Oromo people are still political prisoners.
The oppression of the Oromo people has been a linchpin of neo-colonial policy since last century. As Oromos number in the millions and have traditionally lived in much of the north-east of Africa, their subjugation was critical for neo-colonial "stability" in Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia. Until 1934, southern Oromia maintained its independence, and between 1928 and 1936 the Oromo Independence Movement rose up in northern Oromia.
After an internal power struggle among the Abyssinian ruling clique, in 1930 Haile Selassie came to power. Selassie's strategy relied on dividing the Oromo people -- establishing regional administrations and coopting a section of the educated Oromo population. Under this regime the Oromo people faced probably their worse oppression.
In 1974 the super-exploited Oromo peasantry revolted by refusing to pay the 75% of their produce in tax required by the Selassie regime. The revolt started in the north, spread throughout Ethiopia and played an important role in the collapse of the regime. While the Oromo gained same temporary respite, the new Mengistu regime proved to be another dictatorial yoke.
Mengistu used the Oromo people to wage his war against the Eritrean independence struggle. Some 80% of army used against the Eritreans was composed of Oromo. Knowing that they could not win without Oromo support, the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front and the Eritrean People's Liberation Front established the Oromo People's Democratic Organisation (OPDO).
The development of some links with the Oromo national movement and formation of the Ethiopian People's Democratic Revolutionary Front (EPDRF) helped bring about the end of the Mengistu regime and the establishment of a new republic, inaugurated August 21, 1995.
While the new regime has allowed for some Oromo autonomy, including the restoration of the Oromo language, the Oromo people remain without the statehood that they demand. The current regime has minimal Oromo support, mainly the OPDO, with which Negaso Gidada, the new regime's president, is associated. (A largely ceremonial role is reserved for the president under the new constitution.)
Most of the Oromo people's national organisations remain outside the EPDRF. This includes the Oromo Liberation Front, the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Oromia and two other Oromo organisations. Only the OPDO is formally aligned with the EPDRF.
With the increasing pressure on the new regime to consolidate the structural adjustment program begun in 1992, there is likely to be a range of further austerity measures. Privatisations already began in 1995.
This sort of pressure is likely to lead to further national conflict in east Africa. The starting point for real progress must still be the self-determination of the Oromo people.
[For more information, contact Jaraa Aba Sabaa, PO Box 257, Maylands WA 6051.]
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