As an Oromo who has spent his life participating, at different levels, in the
organizational, cultural, political and military efforts of the OLF, it has not
escaped my notice that the OLF is badly broken and in need of urgent
attention, if at all, it is to be given a fighting chance of surviving and fulfilling its
potential – to wage armed struggle – war of liberation against the Abyssinian
occupying forces and eventually liberate Oromia. I also sense that I am not
alone in this, and the prevailing state of affairs is a public secret and the entire
Oromo nation is fully aware of the dire situation, of course, except few
foolhardy pretenders – the loyalist brigade.
As Oromo nationalists sadly know very well, OLF’s competence as a fighting
force and its claim to liberate Oromia are frequently mocked, its interventions
denounced, and its motives impugned by the enemy that has taken, time and
again, merciless military actions against it since its very inception, most of the
time, without directly referring to the name OLF for fear of the great Oromo
nation. The enemy is usually supported by world powers, and is particularly
well armed with the latest surveillance methods and knowhow – the military
junta by the then East German Stasi and now the TPLF by China as well as
some western countries. For example, the TPLF has one million paid secret
agents in the state of Oromia alone according the Crisis Group Africa Report
(2009). The TPLF regime is working day and night on its sinister project of
dismantling and destroying the state of Oromia and perpetrating untold
genocide on the Oromo.
However, these obstacles are actually not the main reasons why the OLF is
broken, and all will be revealed in the following paragraphs, should you have
the decorum to read this short article to the end. I have the feeling that some
will not read it past this point. These guys who have strong aversion to any
sort of critique of the OLF, are actually another reason why the OLF is broken.
I will come back to how, but for now I urge you to bear with me and persevere.
I am not even sure if some of the Oromo media outlets will allow this article
see daylight at all.
Oromo Liberation Front as organization came into being half a century or so
ago. During the early 1970s, those pioneer Oromo nationalists were branded
narrow nationalists both by others and some Oromos with low level of national
consciousness, a label that nicely captures the ambivalence with which the
colonizers and some of the colonized always seem to regard those who lay
claim to self-assertion and aspire to free their own people from subjugation.
Thanks to the immense sacrifice that the golden generation paid, today the
OLF has become one and the same with the Oromo nation and the nation has
become the OLF for its stated goal of restoration of independent democratic
republic of Oromia.
Notwithstanding this success, the OLF is broken and unable to limp forward
more than ever before in its entire existence. What is mindboggling is how
such an organization that is embraced by its people has been withering away
in front of our own eyes. Such a paradox needs to be understood. The might
of the enemy has certainly failed in its attempts to kill it. So, the only logical
conclusion is that there must be an enemy within. The shadowy dark forces
crippling its organs at all levels. They say an enemy within is worth a
thousand outside, don’t they? This short reflection attempts to shine some
light on how our beloved organization is broken by the enemy within and even
dare to suggest how we can fix it.
There are those who argue that the struggle led by the OLF is marching
forward successfully ever than before. However, we all know that all is not
well. So, the first question would be what does a broken organization actually
look like? Simply put, a broken organization is an organization that unendingly
tends to disintegrate over time rather than grow in strength and wisdom.
As a matter of fact, OLF has always been at a breaking point since year zero.
But, it never broke down completely hitherto. The setbacks that the OLF
suffered in those heady days in the 70s and 80s are well documented. In
recent years, the never ending splitting of different OLF factions is another
example of how the OLF always tittered on the brink of collapse. So, what is
new right now you might think for one to have concluded that the OLF is
Incompetent Leadership, Localism and Prolonged Exile
Definition of a leadership and what we consider OLF both need to be given
operational definition, in the first instance, as there are a number of OLFs
around you might care less to count them (OLF GQ, OLF KY, OLF QC, OLF
SG, OLF JJ etc.).
On the other hand, there has been a tremendous amount of time and
resources expended on the effort of reuniting the factions. The OLF factions
are all willing to reunite, with the exception of the conceited OLF SG faction,
that has become a stumbling block not only to the true reunification of the
OLF factions but to the entire struggle itself, I am afraid.
The OLF SG faction is under direct command and control of the Eritrean
security apparatus. This group has modeled itself on Isayas Afewarki’s style
of leadership. Absolute dictatorship. OLF SG is totally void of democratic
principles and accountability but rife with localism. For instance, Daud Ibsa
has built an empire structured around agents of barons from his local
confidants. And, so are other factions. Let the evidence speaks for itself.
More importantly, in every corner of the globe all of the OLF factions have,
supporters, members and organizational structure not to mention the inactive
silent majority of former OLF members marginalized by design.
Any organization is as strong as its leadership. In addition, the world has
moved away from the idea of the leader to leadership. The world has also
moved away from hierarchical to transformational leadership style. The OLF
was so progressive in the 70s and created an exemplary rules and regulations
to ensure democratic centralism. If you read the OLF rules and regulation
designed at the beginning, you will marvel at the farsightedness of the
founders. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge about what leadership and
management are, one will simply admire where have they all gone and now
the OLF is reduced to its former shadow. Lack of respect for the rules and
regulations, localism, despotism and mediocrity are at the root of the
obliteration of the OLF. The few gifted talents within the OLF are either
marginalized by the cliques or drowned out by the chorus of malicious
smearing and gang mentality and loyalty to local warlord like characters.
The unspoken truth, after all, is as OLF seemed incapable of reliably
distinguishing an existential thereat from internal disharmony, a state of affairs
that became an acute embarrassment with the endless mushrooming of
different factions has turned lethal not only to the OLF but also for the
cohesion of the Oromo society, as the factions are now shaping up in line of
The OLF has been in exile for a quarter of a century. None of the OLF
factions has a military or organizational presence in Oromia. Do not jump up
and down and fool yourself by the misguided propaganda that this sort of
thing is what only the enemy says. If someone tries to pull wool over your face
with the usual chorus of ‘qabsoon finiinaa jira’, please ask for the evidence.
Where is the evidence? The fact on the ground in Oromia is palpably obvious.
Where is the liberated zone in Oromia? A liberation front cut off its people is
like a fish out of the sea.
A liberation organization cannot run a conventional army (even if supported by
the mighty Eritrea) to invade and liberate its people. A liberation front would
have to lead insurgency from its bases among its own people. The last
combatant forces of the OLF left the southern zone of Oromia in 2001, for the
reasons I will not go into at this moment. Since then it has only been hit and
run. The leaders are dispersed thousands of miles apart. All of the OLF
factions conduct radio broadcast in their attempts to reach the Oromo
populous at home. Radio alone is not enough. A generation has past since
the OLF left the cities and villages of Oromia completely and there is a
yawning gap between what the OLF leaders think and what is happening on
the ground. Children born in 1991 are themselves parents now.
With whatever strengths and weaknesses they possess, like anyone else, the
existing crop of OLF leaders are aging and they are creaking under the
pressure. Like everything that is old it does not take a great deal to crumble.
Attend any public meetings organized by OLF you struggle to see the youth
and women. In particular, absence of women and the young at leadership
position in the OLF is ominous evidence that it is living on a borrowed time.
Fabricated Military Actions, False Promises and Façade
As the direct consequence of the gradual decline in their ability to carry out
direct political and military activities on the ground anywhere in Oromia, the
OLF factions (without exception) have resorted to simulated war. The process
of pretense, which started in order for biding time until they start the real war,
has now become the new norm and a standard modus operandi.
People fabricated unverifiable military communiqués for the past 15 years or
so and sadly there is no end in sight. They even repost the same press
release time and again. They take phantom military actions at the same place
and make the same number of enemy soldiers ‘out of action’ year in and year
out. The ritual for these bizarre press releases is few weeks before the yearly
summer Oromo gathering with one thing and only one thing in mind –
collecting funds for the virtual liberation army. It is not uncommon for some
members of the Oromo diaspora communities telephoning families living in
the villages where the phantom OLA had taken action according to the OLF
press release and mockingly asked back “are you dreaming” by the residents.
It is also a common practice for the enemy to harass, mass imprison and
uproot the villagers whom the OLF radio (SBO) announces “Oromos residing
in such and such village have contributed this and that for the support of the
OLF”. How low can this thing get?
Nor has OLF generally enjoyed a particularly happy relationship with its
diaspora brethren, who have at times treated the OLF as an embarrassment.
For a quarter century and more, OLF’s activities have been dominated by
fundraising from the diaspora. Yet the problems the majority of the Oromo
diaspora wrestles with often represent major challenges to the Oromo social
order and unity we assume we share. What can we make of recent
developments in the diaspora that some have now given up on the OLF and
warming to unionist Oromo political organizations based at home? Even more
astonishing, how about the OPDO openly recruiting Oromo nationals in the
diaspora in large number? These things were absolutely unthinkable just a
few years back.
Ideology and Lack of Democratic Governance
Although OLF had its charms in regards to its political objective, it did not
have a very good track record when it came to organizational strength—if its
sterner critics were to be believed, not much of an organizational track record
The OLF constitution clearly declares its objective as “to struggle for the
creation of democratic republic of Oromia”. However, the OLF factions’ upper
echelons are committed to the idea of Ethiopia rather than Oromia. Contrary
to this, the Oromo public and OLF members at the grassroots level, dream
about free and democratic independent Oromia. The main reason why this
situation is allowed to exist is because of the organizational culture of
intolerance of political debate or debate of any sort for that matter, which is
made redundant by the Abyssinian style of leadership.
The OLF constitution states that officials at all level of the organization are
elected by a secret ballot of members at all levels. But, for example, OLF SG
structures itself by direct appointment by the chairman of the organization,
from local cells to the departmental levels, a method unheard of in the modern
era. Among other things, the organizational cultural clash between the
totalitarian OLF SG style and the egalitarian democratic style of OLF QC is
threatening the collapse of the process of the ongoing reunification process.
This compounded with the inherent ideological mistrust between members of
these two organizations has almost rendered the process unworkable. There
are cracks already here and there and only time will tell if these differences
can be resolved.
However, perhaps of all the difficulties the most damaging problem that has
brought the OLF to its knees is the OLF SG (and all of its factions, including
ODF) flip-flopping between Oromia and Ethiopia – ideological paralysis. The
departure of ODF faction of the OLF SG gave some a glimmer of hope that
the remaining OLF SG might return to the objectives of the OLF. Alas this was
wishful thinking. Well, look at the recent attempt to bring back AFD from the
dead. The wisdom of merging with Ethiopian organizations before reuniting
Oromos shows that the priority is Ethiopia not Oromia. Even though alliance
with forces that have common problems and objectives is desirable one has
to put own house in order first.
Eritrea and Safe Heaven
What does Eritrea look like as a country? There is no parliament, dissolved by
the president under the guise of power struggle. The Eritrean cabinet met for
the last time well over a decade ago, in 2002. Isayas Afewarki has absolute
power and is president for life. Millions of young Eritreans are leaving the
country by all means available to them. There seems to be no hope for that
country until Isayas and his cronies pass away (i.e. no hope for Eritrea at least
for a generation).
What is more, Eritrea’s position on the Oromo question is unequivocal. Eritrea
does no support the creation of independent Oromia. More importantly, like
anyone else, Eritrea has national self-interest. The Ethiopian regime is
supporting Eritrean opposition groups that aim to get rid of Isayas Afewarki.
As a counter strategy Eritrea hosts Ethiopian opposition groups, large and
small, include a number of OLF factions.
Eritrean security agents use opposition groups to threaten Ethiopia as and
when it suits Eritrea. Therefore, the remnants of OLA based in Eritrea for the
past 16 years, are considered part of the Eritrean security apparatus. Most of
the time the so-called OLA is digging for Eritrea, like anyone in Eritrean
national service. Daud Ibsa is the charge d’affaires of the emasculated OLA,
which is considered a battalion with in the Eritrean national service.
The role Eritrea played and continues to play needs to be understood. The
Asmara Group aka Shanee Gumii came to power 16 long years ago, in 1999
through coup d’état, guided by Eritrea. Truth be told, Daud Ibsa was recruited
by the EPLF long time ago, way back in 1980, when he and others acquired
military training from the EPLF. It is expected that organizations would
naturally infiltrate others for obvious reasons, in particular the EPLF needed to
infiltrate and if possible control the TPLF and the OLF. For instance, the late
Melles Zenawi was installed by EPLF after bloody coup within the TPLF.
As a matter of fact, the OLF has become a surrogate for Eritrea. Oromia has
become by extension de facto administrative territory of Eritrea. The Eritrean
diaspora pays tax to the Eritrean state. Oromos supporting the OLF contribute
membership fees and donation for the OLF. The money is sent to Eritrea. The
Eritrean state also gains hard currency on behalf of the OLF and others from
countries hostile to Ethiopia, including Egypt.
The so-called OLA stationed in Eritrea is fully engaged in the Eritrean national
service that the young Eritreans run away from and end up drowned in
hundreds in the Mediterranean Sea. In return Eritrea offers safe haven for
their loyal servants Daud Ibsa, Kamal Galchu and Hailu Gonfa (three ‘OLF
leaders’ residing in Asmara comfortably and generate confusion about the
existence of three different OLF headquarters in the tiny capital Asmara).
On balance, to be fair to Eritrea, every nation has to work for its own national
interest. The OLF factions based in Eritrea could have used the sanctuary
given to them to design their own way forward and repatriate back to Oromia.
They have not done this. And therefore, on one level we have to appreciate
the safe haven given by Eritrea to Oromos.
Returning to the loyalist brigade, if one raises concerns about the OLF
factions the loyalist brigade is quick to jump up and down. A cocktail of
localism and being ignorant of Oromo history intoxicates the loyalist brigade.
They have direct access to the so-called leaders and for them the struggle is
flourishing, and that is that for them. It is virtually impossible to reason with
them. They are actually not small in number and more significantly vocal. This
group scares the rest of the Oromo diaspora and media with threats of
malicious propaganda. The loyalist brigade stifles out a health discussion and
inadvertently contributes to the slow death of the OLF.
How might the OLF be rescued?
All of the OLF factions rely on the financial supports of the Oromo diaspora.
They all recruit members from the diaspora where we are all free to debate.
Therefore, the solution lies with us. Supporters must demand accountability
and transparency and above all the truth about the state of the struggle.
Clarity of the objective of the struggle is critical too. In this regard, members
must hold the leaders into account and guard the objective (kaayyoo qabsoo)
so that the leaders get no opportunity to dilute the goal of the struggle as has
been witnessed time and again.
Members in every faction must insist in reuniting all the factions of the OLF
based on unity of agreed purpose of struggling to liberate Oromia and work
towards it in a coordinated political, military and information campaigns.
All in all, back to basics and rescue the OLF for the sake of the Oromo nation
and push forward with the necessary struggle fro our survival as a nation.
OLF is not a new organization. It has a well-rehearsed political program and
well worked out balanced modern rules and regulation albeit these are
repeatedly ignored. Therefore, we all have to insist that the agreed program
and rules and regulation must be respected. There must be checks and
balances at all levels of the organization so that the members and supporters
hold the leadership into account. Democratic centralism and collective
leadership must be revived.
Furthermore, misinformation and the propaganda must give way to action in
the mountains of Oromia. Living on a staple diet of propaganda must come to
an end as a matter of urgency. We are facing genocide and hence we have
fight for our survival.
Most above all, we need a leadership that is ready to return to the mountains
of Oromia. In this regard, the youth is expected to step up to the plate. The old
guard has shown stiff resistance to handover the torch but you should not wait
for them to go down with the organization. Rescue the struggle and the old
guards from their own misery too. Whatever you do please refrain from
loitering around Europe and America and give interviews. The guaranteed
way to success is by filling the leadership vacuum created in the valleys and
the mountains of Oromia.
But, dismiss the critical voices at your peril and continue with business as
usual and you are guaranteed at this rate there is going to be no OLF or
Oromia to talk about in the next 5 years or so.