The main cause for setting out to write this piece is a press statement that was sent out today by five Oromo political parties on current issues. What has become so controversial and ire on social media now is the quite insensitive and unsubstantiated claim that the statement makes about Addis Abeba, the capital city of Ethiopia.
The statement Watch:
” We Oromo political parties state that Addis Abeba is always Oromo’s city. However, this does not mean that non-Oromos cannot live in Addis Abeba (Finfine).”
This is a dangerous claim. Irresponsible and baseless!
It has been a while since Oromo activists have been arguing that Addis Abeba “is actually not the original name of Addis Abeba but Finfine (an Oromiffa word they say) and the city belongs to Oromo people since they were the “natives or indigenous” and the rest of the population are “immigrants or settlers.” Many have chosen to disregard these claims as foolish and ignore them. They never imagined such outlandish ideas held by some extremist Oromo activists would be taken up and mainstreamed by senior Oromo politicians who are now openly and irresponsibly repeating this wildly unreasonable agenda that could have so many negative consequences. Yet, they did.
Is Addis Abeba’s name Finfine? Are the Oromo people the natives of Addis Abeba and the rest settlers?
We first tried to conduct an online search for scientific literature on Google Scholar, Jstor and other scientific journals that could corroborate their claims.
One of the few official sources is found in the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) statement issued in 2014 titled “Finfine is the Central and Integral Part of Oromia.” The statement justifies Addis Abeba (Finfine according to their lingo) is an Oromo city and the rest especially Shoa Amhara are settlers because ” The area historically and legally belongs to the Oromo people. Before the conquest of Emperor Menelik, the present land on which the city of Finfine is erected had been the ritual, political and economic center of the Tulama branch of the Oromo society…The traditional owners of the land were mainly the Oromo clans of Gulalle, Eka and Galan. The former name of the area Finfinne was replaced by Amharic name that came to be known as Addis Ababa. Subsequently names of different places in and around Finfine took Amhara names. Among others Burqa Finfine was changed to Filwaha, Birbirsa Ya’ii Goro took the name Arada Georges, Chaffe Arara was designated Arat Kilo, Dalati was labeled Arat Kilo, Tullu Hexo was named Tallaquu Beta Mengist (Grand Palace), Beda Ejersa Ras Kasa Sefer, Luqo Kormaa was changed to Ras Birru Sefer, Barro Korma named as Ras Tesema Sefer, Arbu Irrecha to Ras Hayilu Sefer…” In the six pages of the statement, there is no other archaeological, historical or scientific evidence given to corroborate the claims. A good question to ask is “so how did the Tulama or other groups of Oromo come to Addis Abeba?”
The only information is that the current sub cities of Addis Abeba had an Oromo name before therefore they are the native lands of the Oromo people. This is a simplistic and unevidenced claim. Prof. Fikre Tolosa in a book he adapted from a so called rare book argued that Oromo and Amhara people have the same ancestral lineages because previous kings of Ethiopia and places held names that had meanings both in Oromiffa and Amharic. Such are foolishly speculative and indefensible arguments.
An earlier text submitted to the UN OHCHR by Mr.Tarekegn Chimdi “On Forced Change of the Capital city of the State of Oromia: Ethiopia, from Finfinne (Addis Ababa) to Adama and its Consequences” argues that the Oromo people are indigenous to Addis Abeba (Finfine). He also argues “Prior to colonization of Oromia, the present day Addis Ababa had an Oromo name – Finfinne. ” The only book evidence he attempts to corroborate is Major W. C. Harris’ “The Highlands of Aethiopia (1844)”. He quotes Harris “rolling on like the mighty waves of the ocean, down poured the Amhara host among the rich glades and rural hamlets, at the heels of the flying inhabitants—tramping under foot the fields of the ripening corn, and sweeping before them the vast herds of cattle which grazed untended in every direction.”His book was written nearly 30 years before the foundation of Addis Abeba in 1887. The book narrates about conflicts in late 18th and early 19th century, which have nothing to do with the foundation or “colonisation of Finfine” as Tarekegn argues.
So far we cannot find ANY evidence that shows Finfine was named Addis Abeba before 1887 or the indigenous population of the city were Oromos. No research, literature, architecture, or clues to prove that.
All the pro-Finfine writings do not mention anything before 1887. Their literature and argument is all post 1887 i.e that former Oromo names of the city were changed as Menelik resettled in Addis Abeba. Menelik’s granddad, Sahle Selassie was also reported to have said that “My grandson will re-conquer my father’s land.” This is an evidence that Emperor Menelik and Empress Taytu Bitul re-founded the land, Addis Abeba, which Menelik’s grannies built during the Medieval Christian period.
The problem with most of the above and even legal documents currently being used by the government to give a special right and interest to Oromia on Addis Abeba does not have any robust historical and scientific evidence. There is no archeological material present until today showing Qubee language or even any structure in today’s Addis Abeba showing that there was an Oromo civilisation or rule as old as the medieval Ethiopia. There is no scientific research or literature showing Finfine as the old name of Addis Abeba or even any clue that only Oromo people were the singular and native residents of Addis Abeba. If there is, it is not anything beyond foolish “listing of old Oromo names of places and arguing because they bore an old Oromo names, they are and belong to Oromos.”
Archaeological, historical and scientific evidence of Addis Abeba pre-15th C
Southern Abassia section of the Fra Mauro map indicating toponomy and geographical features – Note: The southern orientation means that south is above. (Source: Walker (2014))
The press statement by a cluster of Oromo opposition forces, who now feel to have become the de facto rulers of the country, after the TPLF clique lost most of its power within the key sectors of the government, have likely issued this presser as a strategy of giving the rest of the opposition forces, as well as Addis Abebans, another assignment. Instead of focussing on the major events happening in the country such as the targeted ethnic attack against Gamo and Gurage people in Burayu, Oromo region by alleged Qerro youth, the mass arrest of youth in Addis Abeba and the entrenchment of key government posts mainly by officials from the OPDO, they are focusing on minor issues that could create more problems and clashes.
Hence, if there was anyone to rightfully claim more rights in today’s Addis Abeba, then It would have been especially of the people related to the Shoans of the medieval period. However, this is a futile venture because before the Shoan reign, there were other people, who also called themselves “natives”. And, also before these people, there were people of certain ethnic group, who lived in this region and called themselves “indigenous.” Hence, the “we are the natives” argument holds little or no water at all. There is no ethnic group that should be given special rights and interests in Addis Abeba. Current city laws and articles of the constitution giving special rights and privileges to the Oromia region should immediately be revised. Oromo activists and opposition parties should also refrain, as well as apologise, for making such divisive, isolating and conflict inciting statements. It is unbelievable that Oromo elites are making such claims, when most of them are based in the Western world, where they are considered as Londoner, Torontonian or American equal to those those born there. People born in Addis Abeba might be considered “a native of Addis” but Addis Abeba is and must be for all Ethiopians, also anyone, who legally resides in the city respecting the laws of the country and the people. There is no first class or second class Ethiopian! More good research and scholarship is necessary to end the claims and counterclaims once and for all.