By Girma Tefera
The big speech given by ODF leader Lencho Bati in the Seattle Ethiopian convention has already sparked controversy among Ethiopians worldwide. Some Ethiopians in the diaspora think he is a visionary Oromo leader with idealism and hope for unity in Ethiopia. That is fine and we should engage with his moderate views; compared to some left wing separatists. Anytime groups come around a table for dialogue should be applauded. But most us are still left scratching our heads on what exactly is Mr. Lencho planning to unite?
Most of us who attended the event or watched the video of his speech seem to be mesmerized by his charisma and his populist rhetoric. Lencho got many laughs from the crowd with his references to Prof. Mesfin’s age and his jokes that Oromos wanted to “take Wallelign” if Amharas don’t want him. But, behind all this comedy is the same old ethnic politics that we have come to hate about Woyane.
For example, Lencho depicted the political battle as being between ethnic unionist and ethnic separatists. But let us pause for a second. That is the same two narrow choices offered to us by TPLF! In 1991, Meles basically told us “hey look at those separatist OLF and ogadens, they want to destroy Ethiopia but we TPLF will save you from them.” 26 years later, Are we going to fall for this same old trick? Are we going to repeat history again? Are we going to settle for backward Marxist politics that divide and define people based on temporary languages, by ignoring our complex and holistic identity as multiethnic Ethiopians?
When Lencho said “we are unionists,” the question on most Ethiopians must be who exactly are you uniting? Oromos and Amaras? What about around half of Ethiopians who are born with both or many ethnolinguistic ancestry? What about millions of mixed and non-mixed Ethiopians who simply do NOT want to identify with a certain narrow tribal label?
Mr. Lencho, the main problem with the last transitional process in 1990s was not the lack of alphabet soup tribal labels sitting around the table. The problem was millions of Ethiopians were ignored and insulted when TPLF decided to exclude Ethiopians who are simply Ethiopians! That is why these Ethiopians rallied around Kinijit/Andinet in 2005 and voted out TPLF. We are not worried about replacing TPLF with another LF or ODF or a coalition. We want to remove the whole system that divides our people based on tribe.
Mr. Lencho, just think of Wollo province for a second, which is around 8-10 million and almost 10% of Ethiopia. If you are Wolloye, you will know that let alone ethnicity, even religions are mixed. Anywhere, you will find a person with a Christian first name and a Muslim father name or vise Versa. When TPLF re-drew our map, it was so confused that it had to put an “Oromo zone” in the middle of Wollo because people everywhere are mixed. After 25 years, woyane’s social engineering still has failed and many people in Wollo are proud of their mixed identity. Now, if you go in the middle of Wollo and shout “I am a unionist,” do you know how ridiculous you will sound? How can you ethnically unite a person who already has great-grand-parents from different ethnicity? Nature has already done the job for you sir. These people have been mixed for generations, way before your bogeyman Menelik was even born, perhaps even before 17th century, when Oromo speaking rulers reigned. For people in Wollo, it would make better sense, if you promise them to end this nightmare of ethnic politics that threatens to destroy their identity and divide their families. It is better if you promise them individual rights based on democracy and merit, instead of group rights that only benefits tribal elites.
I gave you only one example of Wollo, but you can go to every urban and other regions and you will find millions who are born mixed, some of them don’t even know it, thanks to being brainwashed by Woyane politics (and their OPDO and ANDM branches). These days even so-called “Amharas” have been brainwashed by woyane to think tribally. But you can tell how ridiculous these TPLF/ANDM Amaras are because they go to Welkait and wave the flag of Ethiopia and worship Menelik & Taytu. They are so amateur that they don’t realize their “Amhara hero” Taytu was Oromo and even Menelik’s mother was Oromo. This is how childish and confused the tribal politics has become.
Mr. Lencho, we need to end this ethnic politics nightmare and throw he whole woyane system in the garbage of history. We don’t need another ethnic unity formula. Yes, We realize some of your diaspora Oromo constituents are even more ridiculous and have dreams of independent Oromia nation. That is unfortunate that we have short-sighted and uneducated people. Let them try and die fighting for their mythical nation. Because we can not repeat history again and change the terms of our future. It is time we end our misery, bitterness and backwardness, and join the globalised modern world. The debate of Ethiopia’s future can NOT be between ethnic unionists vs ethnic separatist. The future debate is between ethnic unionists and non-tribal democratic forces, period.