On December 1, 2013, the Oromo Studies Association has posted on its Facebook page about unfortunate experience of a certain Oromo scholar at the British Council, in Ethiopia, regarding the selection of the code of his mother tongue from a list of the African languages. The purpose of this compatriot was to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Filling a registration form before taking the TOEFL was a normal procedure. Much to his dismay, Afaan Oromo, was missing from a list of some eighty African languages (among which Amharic and Tigrinya were mentioned) on the form. In fact, when we put in the relative terms mentioning Amharic and Tigrinya and disregarding Afaan Oromo is tantamount with mentioning Scotish and Welsh and ignoring English from a list of languages in Great Britain.
Afaan Oromo is the largest language spoken in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. For that matter, Afaan Oromo is the third most widely spoken African indigenous language and perhaps among the biggest stateless language in the world.
Afaan Oromo is among the least visible large languages in Africa because of historical misinformation campaigns perpetrated against the Oromo people by successive Abyssinian (Ethiopian) rulers. The Oromo people have been subjugated and marginalized by the Ethiopian rulers since the last quarter of the 19th century. The Oromo language was banned for use in education, the mass-media, and public life until 1991. Today, the ban has been lifted, and the language is used in the Oromiya State with some restrictions. It is irony that the so-called multicultural Ethiopia still imposes the minority Amharic language as a sole federal working language in the nation of some eighty languages.
Coming back to the British Council issue, it was Dr. Trueman who brought the matter of the British Council to the attention of the Oromo Studies Association (OSA) by emailing the President of the OSA, Dr. Ibrahim Elemo. The Oromo student in the center of this issue is Gizachew Ebisa Soboksa, a graduate student at Wageningen UR (The Netherlands) and double degree program with ISARA-Lyon (France). He addressed this issue by sending enquiries to the executive of the British Council and Dr. Trueman, an OSA member and relentless advocate of the Oromo people for decades.
The OSA shared this information to its audience, and the Oromo intellectuals back home and in the diaspora. Then, an Oromo nationalist, who felt that this should not be happening in the 21st Century British Council’s history, brought the matter to the attention of the British Council in Ethiopia. After several communications, the British council contacted Mr. Soboksa personally and talked to him about his experience. According to the British Council, the Codification of the African languages was made by its UK central office, and not by the British Council in Ethiopia. Sources close to the British Council informed us that Amharic and Tigrinya are chosen as the official language of Ethiopia and Eritrea respectively. Regardless the OSA believes that the British council that strives to establish a multicultural world has to include one of the biggest indigenous languages in Africa (Afaan Oromo) in its list of the African languages. Afaan Oromo is the official working language of the State of Oromiya for more than 20 years and widely spoken in Kenya and Somalia. In this regard, the Oromo nationalists are campaigning to make Afaan Oromo one of the working languages of the Federal Government of Ethiopia.
Mr. Soboksa’s campaign has been a success story, and the OSA believes that it can be replicated elsewhere, and any Oromo person has a potential to contribute something for advancing the cause of the Oromo people. Of course, it is irony that the British Council make a change twenty years after Afaan Oromo becomes the official language of Oromiya. This shows the powerlessness of the Oromo nation even regarding the issues pertaining to its language despite the fact that the ruling Ethiopian regime (EPRDF) claims that the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO) is a crucial player in the federal and state matter. More than ever, the Oromo have to realize that we are the only ambassadors to promote the growth of the Oromo language until we reclaim our home country. In this connection, the OSA would like to mention and encourage the exemplary work of a young Oromo activist, Toltu Tufa, to revitalize Afaan Oromo.
We would like to express heartfelt appreciation for Gizachew Ebisa Soboksa, Dr. Trueman, and an Oromo activist scholar based in Finfinne who worked on this issue diligently. We would also like to thank the British Council for the swift measure. We have a firm belief that other foreign organizations and academic institutions will correct their deficiencies regarding the Afaan Oromo classification and codification.
OSA’s Mid-Year Conference Theme for 2014 is “Communicating Oromo Issues Effectively: The Role of Media, Organizations and Elites.” In line with this theme, the OSA is trying to communicate the Oromo issues to its members and the general public in a timely fashion. On the forthcoming Mid-Year Conference, to be held in Chicago, on March 29th and 30th 2013, the OSA is arranging a panel on the Afaan Oromo issue.
Date: December 4, 2013
To contact OSA’s President on this issue, please use: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ibrahim Amae Elemo, M.D., M.P.H
President, Oromo Studies Association/Waldaa Qorannoo Oromoo