Oduu Haaraya

How is the OLF broken, and how we can fix it



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

completely broken?

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

at all.

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.

About bilisummaa

Yaa rabbii ilmaan Oromoo haqa garsiisi warra haqa isaa ka dhabe karaa haqaatii fii gootummaan ifirratti falmatee deeffatu godhi!! Baha, Dhiha, Kaabaa fii kibbatti sagalee keenya tokko nuuf taasisi yaa waaqa!!

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One comment

  1. It’s high time that we clean our house and face the enemy. The mushrooming of OLF is no different from the works of the enemy. Everytime the issue of unity comes, they look to the outside instead of forming real unity from within. This has to stop and all organizations wishing to liberate Oromia will have to come under one umbrella and face the enemy. No alternative solution. Eritrea never supported the independence of Oromia and therefore, stationing in Asmara is a waste of time and resources. Let’s wake up and do the right thing for our people.

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