Turning Back The Wheels of History

It became public on September 12 that the Tigrigna and the Afaa Oromo TV programs were transferred to a regional status from a national one. Subsequently, their air time were abruptly shrunken on September 26, 2008 with the ultimate goal of implementing what the government called a “localizing policy”. 

By localizing, it is meant banning the Oromo program from a federal broadcast by limiting it to a regional status. The move has left not only 60 journalists unemployed but it also bracketed the approximately 37 million Oromos from the public life of the national program.

This move has provoked an outrage from the Oromo public and political organizations that legally function in the country. As two Oromo opposition groups told the Sudan Tribune, the move is politically motivated in further marginalizing the Oromo language and culture. “The ruling party fears that offering the huge Oromo people a wide and strong public voice will heighten political consciousness” said Dr. Merrara Gudina, the Chairman of the Oromo Peoples Congress. The chairman of Oromo Federalist Movement and a member of the federal parliament Mr. Bulcha Demeksa said on his part “This is a political motivated action of the ruling party which targets to put the Oromo people’s national political role out of the game by weakening their role from every angle by such undemocratic acts”.

It is well known that Afaan Oromo, the Oromo language, is the only largest language, spoken by over 40% of the entire population of the country, not to mention minority Oromo groups in neighbouring countries like Kenya, Somalia and even the Sudan. It was with this consideration that the TPLF/EPRDF conceded in 1991 to accept the Oromo people and their language as a major part of the public life of the country.  Whether it did so voluntarily or not, this was the merit of the ruling party in contrast to all preceding Ethiopian rulers.

As the TPLF/EPRDF toppled down the Ethiopian military regime in 1991, it came to power with one but most fundamental political objective. That objective was to change Ethiopia from what MR. Meles Zenawi used to call the “Prison of Nations” to the “Mosaic of Nations”. In other words, transforming Ethiopia from Amharan dominated unitary state to a multinational state was not only the major goal of the EPRDF but also its raison d’etre.

So was constituted the then Transitional Government by a broad coalition of different political forces such as the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) etc. in representing the interests and aspirations of their respective peoples in the making of a new Ethiopia. Ethiopian state was structured for the first time in its history under a federal system alongside national identities with the final aim of empowering the various peoples of the country to exercise their political, economic and cultural rights based on the cardinal principle of equality.

This noble and visionary political objective to end the most enduring conflict of the country could not survive, however, even a year, as the TPLF/EPRDF soon started, in 1992, carving for establishing a Tigrean hegemony by ousting those various major political forces with which it was originally allied. The failure marked the beginning of the end for the newly envisioned Ethiopia.

True, the TPLF/EPRDF regime continued to maintain the federal structure till now. But that is only to give the semblance of multinational character to the Ethiopian state with the final aim of saving a space for its own legitimacy.

The TPLF/EPRDF followed right from the beginning a double standard policy; a policy that aims both against the old monolithically architected Ethiopia and the newly envisioned diverse Ethiopia at the same time. As the TPLF/EPRDF has its raison d’detre in the Tigrean nationalist cause, it stood against the old Amharan dominated unitary state in favour of a multinational principle according to which the various ethnic groups could enjoy some sort of social and cultural autonomy. But, in the same token, since the Tigrean ethnic group is too thin (with only  7% of the Ethiopian population) to deliver the necessary social base for guaranteeing the sought autonomy, the TPLF/EPRDF regime believes it is a matter of survival necessity centralising political power around the Tigrean axis. The credo for this double speared policy is called by the government as a Revolutionary Democracy that aimed at fighting both chauvinism (Amharan centred unitary movement) and narrow nationalism (those nationalist struggles whose aspiration are equality, justice and diversity).

Ultimately such over all political policy explains why Ethiopian politics has remained what social scientists call the zero sum game, where we can no longer make any meaningful distinction between the beginning and the end, the problem and the solution, the cause and the effect and vice versa.

TPLF/EPRDF’s action of banning the Oromo language from the Ethiopian national TV program is a case in point in sending a telling signal for the Oromos and other oppressed peoples a degenerating politics that is heading to their completely subjugated position prior to 1991 Ethiopia. The move exemplifies TPLF/EPRDF’s attempt at gradually turning back the wheels of history to its takeoff point. 

In view of this fact, therefore, the Oromo Human Right and Relief Organization (OMRHO) worries that the action of the TPLF/EPRDF regime may provoke new wave of reactions from the Oromo public which could certainly be followed as usual by a repressive action on the side of the government. As such scenario has been a matter of repetitive experience under Mr. Zenawi’s regime, OMRHO urges for preventive measures against any possible humanitarian crises. It pleads all peace and democracy loving forces and governments around the world to put pressure on the Ethiopian government to come to its senses in at least respecting its own constitution and avoid any social unrest as a result of a misguided policy.