I was one of those who were fortunate enough to participate in this year’s Oromo Studies Association (OSA) annual Conference that was held in Washington DC on 3rd and 4th of August 2013. From among few OSA annual conferences I had been able to participate; this year’s conference appeared to me as had been better productive in so many respects.
First and foremost, most presenters and conference participants were candid in their participations making the overall deliberations of the conference to appear as a kind of a genuine soul searching exercise. “We have met the enemy. It is us.” One elder presenter roared by quoting a certain French General that he thought would best express our current state of affairs as a nation. Two decades ago, I recall to have thoughtfully inserted a saying in the book I wrote about Metcha and Tulema that goes as “Oh God! Please give me a mirror so that I can look at myself first instead of gazing at others”. Upon listening that quotation being cited so passionately by that Gentleman and witnessing most of the participants endorsing it through their body language, I felt for a while like God has finally answered our prayer and gave us that mirror so that we start looking at ourselves first.
Secondly, unlike my previous experiences, I would say that I had also a moment of delight and jubilation during the deliberations of this conference. With their well documented, clearly articulated and authoritatively delivered presentations, the two young scholars, Obbo Habtamu Dugo and Obbo Kediro Elemo, imbued me with such a hope that I whispered to myself,’ however dim it looks, there is after all a light for us at the end of the tunnel’.
On this forum, in line with our Guddifachaa cultural heritage, we tried to exercise it by adopting two individuals into our rank. We should admit that the next day we missed a big opportunity that we could have used to give a true feel and meaning to this exercise by failing to recognize those positive traits attributed to us by Dr. Haile Hirpa, as also existing in Kebene’s and Jituu’s. To my understanding, the beauty of our Guddifachaa and Mogaasaa Cultural heritage lies not only on how we look at ourselves with such a esteem but also by prejudice free cultural prism through which we look at all others too. Anyhow, we may take this as a learning moment and try to weigh the relevance of overall cultural and institutional setting under which such practices are usually performed and their impact on our capacity to practice what we profess before we resort to taking such similar measures in the future.
There were also instances when lessons drawn in the past spurred me to intervene and utter few words. One such instance was related to the role of religions in the political process of the country. At present, the way religious issues are being manipulated by Government in Ethiopia for a political purpose is very disgusting and irresponsible. Due to prevalence of such situations in the country, I presume, some of us have become extra vigilant not to let nonchalantly uttered vague statements get any chance to create confusion and sow discord amidst us.
What triggered my rather prompt intervention was the utterance of a very blurred statement by one of the presenters that appeared to wrongly portray Oromo people as perceiving Christianity and Islam as what he called “imperial religions”. He also floated an idea that somewhat implies as if we Oromo’s aim at some sort of transformation of the horn of Africa through what he referred to as traditional Oromo religion. This assertion, not only gloss over the fact that currently Oromo is, by and large, belongs to Islam and Christianity, but also wrongly depicts us as being a sort of menace to the entire region due to the persuasion of religious objective the presenter willfully assigned to us. The fact that we are so proud and appreciative of our traditional heritage, including our traditional religious heritage, is being twisted to fit and feed into the current policy of deliberately mischaracterizing and misrepresenting the Oromo people.
The reaction was prompt because it is believed that the best venue to address such blurred statements is the very forum on which they were initially disseminated. Failure to do so in the past has cost us so dearly to this date. Few years ago, we heard such similar erroneous assertions that goes as “the ascendance of Oromos to the political power in Ethiopia will tilt the balance of power in that sub-region in favor of the extremists.” from completely unexpected corner .The reason being, quite a good number of Oromos are Muslims. Of course, a good number of Oromos are Muslims since many centuries ago. Besides, Oromo Muslims had also been, for several times, at the helm of political power in Ethiopia during different period and different regions in the country. All they were known for were magnanimity and benevolence and not in any way a power legacy that was stained with bigotry. According to this assertion, which is neither supported by history nor current reality, combating extremism in that sub region is synonymous with preventing Oromo people from exercising its inalienable human and democratic rights.
As anyone can see from this assertion, it gives primacy to the external sub-regional considerations than the inter play of domestic power dynamics in determining the future political course of the country, and hence a big source of instability and insecurity to that sub region. To our biggest dismay, such assertions had already been elevated to the level of serving as a basis for promulgating such laws like the so called anti-terror law, the law that the current Ethiopian regime is using as a legal justification for taking repressive measures on all sorts of dissenting forces.
I remember to have also experienced a sort of cringing moment during my participation in this conference. Dr. Assefa Jalleta, at the end of his presentation, startled so many of us by suggesting the need to reinvent OLF and Metcha and Tulema Association. I was so much perplexed by this suggestion that I kept on hissing ‘invent’ and’ reinvent’ to myself just in case it helps me get the semantics right. For the benefit of the doubt, I also consulted multiple dictionaries and all I got was this word being defined as “re-make or re-do completely” Was he suggesting to re-make OLF? Or for that matter re-make Metcha and Tulema?
After I get past this initial cringing reaction, I started to gather my thoughts and told myself,” Relax! He could be partly right.” It is customary for a parent to continue hoping to achieve their unfulfilled wishes and aspirations through younger offspring if they fail to get that from the first born. If what Dr. Assefa was suggesting as re-invention of OLF is in that sense, I do not see any reason why anyone should have an issue with that. What is an issue is when Dr. Assefa is claiming to re-make what our fore fathers and mothers had done during their own time. On this, Dr. Assefa is dead wrong. Metcha and Tulema cannot be reinvented. It can only be revered and emulated. Of course, the younger generation can raise the banner of Metcha and Tulema from time to time in its effort to gallantly march forward towards its goal by being inspired by it. Dr. Assefa not only declared the need to reinvent Metcha and Tulema but also took us by surprise by heralding the establishment of its branch in the USA, hence the beginning of that reinvention.
The founding fathers and mothers of Metcha and Tulema Development Association had themselves repeatedly questioned the wisdom of continuing their operations under that name while all they were doing and aspiring to do were aimed at achieving their bigger identity, Oromo. In due course of their operation, they realized that the scope and objectives of their activities was not compatible with their name. It was only their tactical considerations vis a vis the then existing hostile government that they were compelled to retain this name for a while. Of course, the hostility of successive Ethiopian Governments towards the Oromo people has continued to this date. But this does not justify the operational continuity of Metcha and Tulema association as an organizational arm of tackling it. The younger generation should be able to step up to the challenges of its own time by devising its own organizational strategy as a nation that it deems suitable for its own unique situation.
So, if that is the case, what should be the way forward for Metcha and Tulema association? Before trying to share my personal reflection on this, let me emphasize the fact that every single Oromo is equally entitled to have a say about the future of this association. We all own it equally. What I am trying to do now is just take a bold initiative to induce a sober discourse on this long overdue subject. Besides, I want to make clear from the very outset that what I am hereby floating is just a crude idea meant for brain storming purpose and not in any way well thought over project proposal.
Here is what I believe should be done with respect to Metcha and Tulema Association. Unless otherwise changed in substance, Metcha and Tulema Development Association does not currently have operational significance in its true sense of its original identity. What it actually has and what we need to do our utmost to preserve is, its historical, motivational and inspirational significance. It is only when we are able to appropriately address this issue that we will be able to chart the right path forward for this iconic Oromo entity. Dragging this Association operationally over an indefinite period of time may unnecessarily sap the steam out of its glorious legacy which we should have judiciously used as a role model for subsequent generations.
In my opinion, the best way of respectfully paying tribute to its founders and passing over the freedom torch they had sparked to the successive generations honorably is not by letting it continue operationally and negligently allow hostile elements to easily infiltrate its ranks and diminish its glittering image from time to time. It is rather by creating an appropriate institutional environment that enable us derive maximum benefit out of its remaining significances or roles. I personally see that enabling institutional environment as follows.
- Let alone extending it to the external world; bring the operational role of Metcha and Tulema Association to a dignified closure inside the country.
- Aim to create a multi-task institution that is dedicated to this Association. Some of the major tasks that can be housed under this institution (it can be named as Metcha and Tulema Research and Cultural Institute or Center or whatever deemed suitable)
2.1 Museum :[procurement, care, study and display of cultural objects]
2.1.1 Display or exhibition room for historical and cultural artifacts.
2.1.2 Hall of Meritorious individuals and institutions.
2.2 Library (research oriented)
2.2.1 Resource Center
2.2.2 Documentation(Both historical and current)
2.3 Scholarship (Research) Fund: (Financial assistance to be awarded to students and researchers based on clearly established criteria that primarily reflects the values of this movement)
2.4 Prize Fund :(financial or material i.e.in the form of honorific items, to be awarded to individuals or institutions in line with the criteria to be developed for this task)
The Institute or the Center or whatever is deemed appropriate may be established in its entirety as an Endowment Fund. The board to this endowment fund ,apart from being a body to oversee the overall management of the Fund with all its ramifications, also acts as “Elders Council” that enable this body to retain the highest advisory role in matters pertaining to the general wellbeing of Oromo people. The day to day operations of the Institute or whatever should be handled by hired staff.
Initially, this endowment fund should be established with an aggressive fund raising drive both at home and abroad for over a certain limited period of time. (Say over the period of three years) just to enable repeat (annual) contributions that are within the family budget and enable us to raise the maximum possible from each contributor.
Once the endowment fund is established with such initial fund, it should be able to finance its subsequent activities from its own coffers. The only exception to this may be occasional donations from supporters of their own free will and organizing periodic one-time fund raising in tandem with occasional events to be organized as a venue to deliver other major tasks of the fund. Like, scholarship awarding ceremony or ceremony to recognize meritorious individuals or institutions (like inducting to the Hall of Fame). In this way, I strongly believe, we can make best out of its historical, motivational and inspirational roles and pass over its glorious legacy from generation to generation uninterruptedly.
We are blessed to still have a significant number of original founders amidst us to whom we can confidently entrust the task of providing overall leadership in the implementation of this envisaged huge venture.
“Dream big and dare to fail” says Norman Vaughen. We should be ready to incur whatever it takes not to fail. But undertaking any big venture all the way to the point of success almost always entails one’s readiness to daringly confront whatever hurdles one may encounter on every step of the way. The first stride towards that journey is to deliberate on one’s own reflection on this very subject. Let each of us deliberate on the merit of this suggestion with utmost objectivity. Let us also hope that the founding members who are currently amidst us and the current leadership of the association will take us forward from there.