By: Jawar Mohammed
Several Oromos I have spoken to believe that there is still hope for reforming the OLF. But as I will show next, one needs to assess why past efforts aimed at reforming and changing the organization failed. By using the last two breakups as examples of impossibility of reforming the OLF , I will demonstrate that the organization has been damaged beyond repair.
About eight years ago OLF split into two factions that became known as Transitional Authority ( TA) and Central Committee ( Shanee Gumii) -which kept the existing organizational structure. Although ideological differences were cited as the cause for the split, we now know that was not the case. As mentioned above, the organization suffered devastating defeat at the hand of the enemy during the prior decade because of absent, disorganized and sometimes abortive leadership, who wanting to clear their name from wrong doing began blaming each other. It was this attempt to avoid responsibility by painting the other that developed into factions.
In attempt to defend their record and maintain dominance within the organization, the top two leaders began surrounding themselves with loyal cadres. Therefore, ideological difference, independent Oromia vis-a-vis Democratizing Ethiopia” was never really big enough to split the organization, it was simply manufactured to give the conflict an ideological face. By their own admission the TA faction know that from the very beginning Lencho Leta believed in democratizing Ethiopia and hence this issue could not have become a reason for split decades later. They even followed him into the transitional government without any hesitation. The TA group took ideology as a major issue not because they truly believed in it but rather because they assumed that the OLA and the public at large supports the idea of independent Oromia, therefore they wanted to use it to consolidate support.
The fact that, although independent Oromia was a more popular position, the TA lost the battle to the other faction, confirms my believe that the internal conflict was a result of lack of success rather than ideology. Frustrated by a decade of defeat and humiliation, the burning demand of the soldiers and the public, who blamed the old leaders for all the mess, there was a change in leadership. Dawud Ibsa, although a veteran within the organization was a new face, so the members and the public chose to take a chance with him rather than the TA that was dominated by the old guard. Therefore, the TA , despite its populist ideology and highly respected and recognized individuals, failed to gain significant support and eventually died out. Therefore, there is no doubt that the cause of the 2001 split was neither ideological nor regional but rather a failure of the organization to deliver any results.
The victorious Dawud group clearly did not understand neither the cause of the split nor reason why, despite their unpopular ideology, they won the public support over their formidable foes. Hence they kept repeating the same mistake as their predecessors. Thus OLF under Dawud Ibssa’s leadership continued to fade away without any notable accomplishment. As leaders and cadres channeled their energy into destroying the TA, the true mission of the organization was ignored. However, the group came under pressure from the influx of young students who were eager to fight the enemy that forced them out of schools, but they were dismayed to find out that the front had neither the structural capability, nor a willing leadership that can channel the energy of the youth towards constructive role. Once they were shipped to Eritrea and completed training their fate was to engage in hard labor at Mr Afeworki’s farm. This was unacceptable to the restless youth who dreamed of joining the vanguard in order to liberate their people. Those who demanded action were systematically silenced by labeling them as enemy infiltrators and then making them disappear by throwing them to jail.
Nevertheless, the pressure on the leadership dramatically increased when hundreds of Oromo soldiers defected from the Ethiopian military and joined them. This had two major effects on the leadership. First, it increased expectation of better performance because, members and supporters hoped that, addition of such skilled and decorated officers would reinforce and re-energize the organization. Second, the soldiers who came in hundreds have a deeply held personal grudge against the regime in Finfinnee that they came to immediately engage in a struggle of payback. Contrary to their statement, about their sympathy for the Oromo mass, and the accusations labeling them as Woyane agents, the primary cause of defect for those soldiers and other OPDO members were the deep and personal humiliation they suffered under Tigrean domination. Therefore, for them the need for immediate re-engagement was not negotiable.
This fierce urgency of the soldiers strengthened those who were demanding more action. Unfortunately once again, the leadership took this as an offense to their authority. Here I would like to stress that, it is not that the leadership does not want to fight but rather they did not appreciate the fact that “outsiders and newcomers” who do not have years of “jungle credit” within the organization could dare to tell them what to do. The result as we know is that, a new split occurred slicing the already deteriorating organization.
Although this last split was framed and did happen across regional basis, it is wrong to assume that regionalism was the cause of the split. As that of 2001, the 2008 breakup was caused due to lack of any concrete action since the then cabinet took power. The entire leadership was responsible for the failure as each of them were engaged in vilifying the TA group day and night instead of doing the job they were entrusted with. When blaming the TA leadership for all misdeeds was no longer an option, they had to turn against each other and resorted to the good old OLF tradition of using regional affiliation to strengthen factional power-base and accuse the opposite.
Last year this time, a grouping calling itself, Change! emerged and promised to bring tangible result within short period of time. So far they have showed absolutely nothing that resembles change. In fact they continue the same old OLF tradition of fabricating victories, exaggerating reforms and most importantly engaging in a nasty war of words against their former colleagues. Their cadres who spend twenty-four hour on pal talk have been spreading the poison of regionalism just like the group they broke away accusing of domination.
From the outset their overtly hateful campaign against the great people of Wallagaa, whom they do not even know, has undermined their rather appealing call for change. Through their narrow and childish behaviors such ill-mannered cadres have shamed the glorious people of Arsi, whose unforgettable battle against colonizers at Aanolee is a source of pride for all Oromos. Those cadres understand nothing about the “waadaa and hoodaa” of Sikkoo Mandoo. If they do, they would have known that the Arsi are waiting, praying and crying for that day when they would join their brothers to celebrate the end of subjugation and the return of Kaawoo Oromo. Their counterparts are no better as they shamelessly speak of Arsi without knowing that that generous and respectful people, who would never allow even a stranger drink water but milk in their house, let alone engage in a nasty low blow. Therefore, the Change group has failed to bring the much needed shift in political culture and continue to make the same mistake as their foes.
The vast majority, if not all, of the leadership of the Change group, just like the other two faction, still live in exile. Hence, their faction is as dependent on the Diaspora as before. Therefore, their best accomplishment so far is having larger public meetings and a one-time flow of hard earned dollars. They clearly did not learn any lesson because the large crowd was there as spectator to see the new faces of the old organization, and it was the momentary hope and anger at the old guard that helped them generate such large sum of money. Neither the crowed nor the money will continue as the faction will not be able to deliver what they promised.
As mentioned above Eritrea plays critical role in sabotaging OLF and the Oromo struggle at large. OLF will not be able to effectively engage in fighting the enemy as long as it remains in Eritrea. If the change group was serious about transforming the dormant organization into an active insurgent movement, the first thing to do would have been to leave Eritrea for the jungle of Oromia. Now their faction is as a prisoner as the faction they broke away from. Their actions, policies and strategies will be subjected to the approval of Eritrea, and from the experience of OLF under Mr Dawud Ibsa, we know what a leadership that is controlled by Issaias can produce. Therefore, I conclude that the change group can bring neither political nor practical change to the Oromo cause. They are as destructive and useless as their opponents if not worse.
Unity is the most abused and deeply misunderstood word by Oromo politicians such that it has developed a negative connotation. I am always amazed when people who spend so much time spreading false allegations, conspiracy theories and prejudicial assumptions preach about unity. It is wrongly assumed that unity of the larger Oromo people is dependent up on the unity of political factions. Such believe comes from the deeply held dogma about the indivisibility of the front from the people. While consolidations of Oromo forces help strengthen the movement, their fractionalization does not necessarily dismantle the Oromo.
I have no doubt that the internal conflict within the front has traumatized our people especially those who reside abroad. I have heard of numerous stories about families, relatives and lifelong friends, who withstood together the suffering of Sudanese and Somalia refugee camps, whom the 2001 split had broken apart. Our women who once consoled and gave each other the strength of caring for their family while their spouse were in the field have abandoned each other due to such highly charged, deeply personal and painful split. It’s such a traumatizing experience for children to be told , all of the sudden, that they could not visit childhood friends. It is shameful that disagreement over politics could destroy the bonding that was formed by blood and sweat and stood firm through thick and thin. The sad thing is that OLF leaders either never understood the magnitude of the damage they caused to the Oromo community, or they just did not care as long as their selfish and narrow interest were fulfilled. Hence, it was no surprised they repeated the same crime again in 2008.
I have noticed that those families and relationships that were destroyed in 2001 have gradually healed, often because individuals understood how unnecessary it was to choose factional politics over precious relationships. Many people just gave up politics in favor of family and friends, while others completely stopped discussing political issues. Thus, I am optimistic that relationships that were ruined in 2008 will be eventually repaired as people realize how wrong it is to shun a dear friend in favor of some useless factional politics.
But, one crucial issue that must be raised here is that it was the incompetence of the leadership to deliver victory that led to the formation of factions, who spread their organizational poison to the larger public. Therefore, there is no doubt that OLF as an organization has been the biggest source of regionalism and other societal poisons. Any attempt to resurrect OLF will further worsen the damage as these leaders will have another chance to split again and fracture our people.
I do not understand why individuals who know very well how the effort of the “shanacha Jaarsummaa” and formation of ULFO could not solve the OLF crisis now call for another round of phony and even distractive reconciliation effort. I am opposed to the idea of wasting time trying to reconcile OLF because 1) It will be impossible to bring genuine reconciliation due to the deeply held organizational culture, lack of a single concrete issue of disagreement and because Eritrea will never allow a move that makes the organization less reliant on it. 2) What will bring Oromos together, heal the wound and strengthen our unity is action and victory, and this cannot be expected from the very people who made it impossible. Therefore, anyone who truly wants to unite the Oromo, must make the crucial decision and move to Oromia; be it through Bole or Bale. Fight the enemy either in the jungle or streets of Oromia, and I will bet my life that it will take no conference before all Oromos rally behind such movement.
Written by Jawar Mohammed in 2009.