By Kallacha Dubbi
My article of October 26, 2017 on “Ethiopia, grave turmoil lurking in the air?” provided some impressions on the current affairs in Ethiopia – touching on the issue of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization’s (OPDO’s) internal partitioning. The paper didn’t address the possible consequences of this partitioning and its virtual impact on the ongoing Oromo political discourse. Below, I will attempt to discuss this issue in more detail.
In the previous paper mentioned above, I listed three internal variances of OPDO, parted on the basis of their political outlook: i) EPRDF loyalists – who accept the superiority of the TPLF, albeit at times concealed; ii) OPDO loyalists – who stand for strong and independent OPDO with hopes it will take over the post-TPLF Oromia; and iii) Oromo loyalists – nationalists who now form the majority of OPDO, but most of them occupy the lower echelon of OPDO’s political hierarchy. As stated earlier, the last group serves in OPDO for other motives than political conviction, and it carries no political loyalty to OPDO, a party most grew observing as a puppet of the enemy. I now build upon these account because this taxonomy will likely determine the fate of the ongoing Oromo struggle more than the strength of the TPLF.
1. The first group, EPRDF loyalists, has diminished in membership – becoming an insignificant minority within the OPDO. However, they carry a threatening voice if backed by the TPLF military and can quickly turn to become a dominant power, especially if the TPLF opts for an armed attack for direct occupation of Oromia. There is no other component of the OPDO now ready to serve the TPLF on call, to guide it through reoccupation of Oromia – as replica of 1991. In fact, there is no guarantee of TPLF’s success even if it opts for military intervention with the support of EPRDF loyalists. The likely outcome of TPLF’s military intervention with EPRDF loyalists is that it will control the cities with military curfew, with merciless brutality – setting a bogus peace in an ungovernable state of the nation. This will quickly devastate the economy and the country cannot sustain the emergent situation for long. So, while it may emerge with an increased brutality that we have become so familiar with from time to time, the re-emergence of TPLF with the EPRDF loyalist OPDOs poses no serious long-term threat on the Oromo struggle. Furthermore, the consequence of re-lifting the loyalist group to power will have to be by a coup d’etat type intervention to oust the OPDO leadership now in power, a move that will bond the relationship between the remaining OPDOs and that of OPDO with the OLF as well as other Oromo forces. Most in the TPLF, including the TPLF security machinery, see this option as unattainable. Strategically, the EPRDF loyalists are, therefore, nuisances to the Oromo struggle. In the short run, as relapsed informants, they can still harm the struggle, i.e. the damage they can inflict should not be undermined.
2. The position of OPDO loyalists (second group) is somewhat arbitrary; some can turn around and become EPRDF loyalists if the loss to their personal gains and the threat to their investment is too great to risk. Most, however, see the status quo as unsustainable, and allying with TPLF as a death trap. They will strive to carry the torch of OPDO, but they are not ready to defend it with their blood. But then, the effort to keep OPDO as a mainstream Oromo political organization for the post-TPLF era depends much on what the OPDO will do in reaction to what is going on now, less on its bad deeds of the last few decades. Today, the willpower to forgive the OPDO is high among the Oromo in as long as the OPDO is willing to dissociate itself from the TPLF and cease serving this ruthless regime. The OPDO loyalists are well aware of Oromo gullibility, its short memory to offenders and its passion to forgive. OPDO writers seem to be able to capitalize on this Oromo virtues over the recent several weeks, dangerously, at times.
There is a great deal of danger some OPDO loyalists have exhibited in their quest for political standing. Some of them have assertive political ambitions, an ambition that once propelled them to power at the cost of serving the enemy camp against their own people. This ambition pushes them to see all other Oromo political organizations, OLF, OFC, OFDM, etc. as political contenders that should be defeated quickly, or weakened promptly before they become formidable contenders. The damage they can inflict on the Oromo struggle by turning against their political ‘rivals’ cannot be underrated, and their assault, obscure or obvious, can truly have a profoundly negative impact on the Oromo struggle. It is exceptionally dangerous because their target overlaps the TPLF’s target, albeit for a different goal. The end results of the two goals are the same – weakening of the Oromo camp, contrasting a stronger TPLF. This targeting of Oromo political institutions emanates from ignorance, a feeble assumption that freedom is within short reach, and, therefore, one needs to start dressing before one is beaten to the track. It is a short-sighted conduct that kills collective Oromo ambition, that of these ambitious individuals included. Only in this context can one understand the sudden surge of opposition of this camp against Oromo political groups. I don’t see pro-Tigrayan sentiment in the writings of some of these individuals; I really think they are, more often than not, Oromo nationalists with misplaced and miscalculated ambitions. This in no way is to deny prevalence of Oromos who are paid infiltrators working for the TPLF, nor to deny presence of those who ally with the TPLF for personal gain or for political convenience. This after all, is how OPDO emerged almost three decades ago, and it can emerge again.
3. The third group of OPDO, the Oromo nationalists are firm in their outlook, steadfast in their resolve, and if not, confused and manipulated by the onslaught of media, will remain to be contributing bulks of the Oromo struggle.
4. Conclusion: the distance the Oromo struggle can travel as formally embraced by a large body of the OPDO leadership has an end. Granted, OPDO is pressed between two hard rocks, inextinguishable popular demand of the Oromo people, on one side, and unyielding boss that ties its hands and legs, controls everything it does or says, on the other. Hitherto, it has been obeying the boss, even if it meant resisting the mass. This explains the OPDO propaganda asking for restraint, soliciting for intervention of elders – all in search of breathing rooms within the pressing hard rocks.
This pervasive propaganda from the OPDO leadership asks to show restraint in “peaceful demonstrations,” to keep the “gains of the struggle,” and to “protest while developing the economy,” etc. One must dissect these phrases in order to understand the point.
I think the call for peaceful demonstration is fair, private properties and human rights must be protected. But what really is the “gain of the struggle” that OPDO leaders are talking about? What “gain” should we be afraid of losing? What is the expected result of supporting peaceful demonstration without openly standing for the commanded changes? And how is OPDO envisioning the end goal? Where does OPDO want to take us and how?
The TPLF still dominates the socio-politics and military of Oromia and the country; they appoint all federal posts; they keep Oromo political prisoners in jail; they still partition our land to the highest bidder; the ecology is devastated by deliberate negligence; OPDO couldn’t defend Oromos from Liyu police; TPLF concocts conflicts between Oromos and other ethnic groups, and also among Oromo groups; TPLF has stockpiled military defense in Tigray; corruption is still rampant with Tigrayan beneficiaries at the top; … and some OPDOs want Oromos not to block roads to stop trucks from looting Oromia. Oromos, by and large, are confused: OPDO, a political organization that was never listed as part of the Oromo mainstream struggle, is now “leading” the struggle, almost paradoxically against itself. Demonstration that gave rise to the awakening of OPDO is now discouraged, and an invisible “gain” is protected. There is and must be a concern for reversal of the trend, because many are confused by OPDO’s road-map, or lack thereof.
Reasserting, a clear review of OPDO’s leadership suggests that:
i. The TPLF still calls the shots, and OPDO leadership can screech as much as it wants as long as it doesn’t confront Tigrayan supremacy. EFFORT still owns more than any other of Ethiopia; Ethiopian army is still led by TPLF; the airline, manufacturing, banks, diplomacy – virtually everything is controlled by TPLF; and we haven’t heard any challenge from OPDO officials to this TPLF’s supremacy. The recent bravado by OPDO as a stronger and independent political organization is just a posturing as of now, it may be independent, but within itself. Neither should the fate of the Oromo struggle depend only on, or be hostage to a few OPDO leaders or individuals, no matter how good the intention of these leaders may be. Let OPDO leaders do what they can to help the tide of the Oromo struggle, get out of the way if you can’t help the tide.
ii. OPDO leadership seems to beg for more independence from TPLF, but it is also protective of its status as loyal opposition party in Ethiopia. OPDO leadership’s solid desire to protect its position in Oromo body politics, mingled with its fear of the TPLF, dictates how OPDO navigates through the complexity of the ongoing politics, – a form of navigation that can’t lead even close to freedom. This also explains the “gain” that OPDO leaders want to protect, it is a façade of sovereignty OPDO has enjoyed, nothing to do with a gain for the Oromo people. Whether OPDO’s gain can translate to Oromo gain is a wishful thinking for now, and it remains to be seen if it can spill over to our people.
iii. We have noticed that OPDO supports demonstrations as long as they don’t interfere with TPLF’s income or even ego. Any risk to the TPLF’s political power will be dealt with swiftly. Given these facts, the role OPDO can play in facilitating Oromo freedom is not apparent, what they can ostensibly do or deliver is not obvious. Other than emotional lip-service or beautiful narrative, OPDO leadership has shown no strategy to support the Oromo struggle. Freedom in the end is not replacement of a brutal tyrant by a weaker house-dictator who, once upon a time, served the tyrant loyally. OPDO leaders couldn’t pressure the TPLF, or themselves facilitate the release of Bekele Gerba whose bail was illegally suspended, or demand for reestablishment of civic organizations, such as Macha Tulama, leave alone political parties. The contrast between the escalating morale of OPDO and the controlling ego of the TPLF is unsettling.
iv. Not even once have these articulate OPDO officials suggested how they plan to free Oromia from TPLF’s yoke – their own making, after all. They never called for a reelection, or demanded the release of leading Oromo political prisoners, etc. They carefully avoid anything that confronts the wrong done by TPLF. Simply stating: “things must change” is not enough to claim the floor of Oromo nationalism after gashing this same nationalism for decades. Qubee generation has long surpassed trivial declarations, such as “things must change” – they are knocking at the door of freedom. Hearing someone say something for the first time, something that one was too shy to utter for decades, makes it interesting to hear. But the excitement of hearing the unheard shouldn’t be given an emancipating power, nor the capacity to halt a quest for a fundamental change.
Finally, there must be a concern, that the calm some OPDO leaders call for now may derail the Oromo struggle; it buys time for the TPLF, and buttresses inter-Oromo conflicts even deeper. I am fully cognizant, that demonstrations are dangerous, TPLF may use it to occupy and rule over Oromia with untold brutality, it disrupts the economic growth of the people, etc. But the alternative leads to accepting a perpetual rule of an enemy who will never recognize our freedom, least as a reward for our effort to please them with caution. This should never be an option.